This year, just when spring seemed to be drawing near, winter has made a few surprise comebacks. Even in the middle of March, sudden snow flurries interrupted a warming trend that had gardeners out in happy droves. Finally, spring seems to be creeping closer for real. As so often happens, a lingering winter makes for a rushed spring and suddenly it feels like it’s almost too late for chores put off because of cold weather. However, it’s a bit of a jumble out there, as day-length sensitive plants continue on their usual growth schedule while temperature-sensitive plants are still waiting warily in tight bud or lingering dormancy.
At the library, we’re having a massive renovation of a bed long plagued by residues from a former car repair shop on what’s now the site of our largest border. Cool, overcast weather is ideal for such a venture, but no sooner had we dug out all the plants and arrayed them on a tarp than out came the sun, with surprising warmth. We hastily rigged a tarp tent over the poor naked plants as we scattered a restorative mixture of sawdust and wood shavings and remedial fungi blended for us by the wizards at Fungi Perfecti (www.fungi.com). Led by genius Paul Stamets, these amazing people specialize in all sorts of ingenious applications for fungi, including remediation of soil contaminated by petroleum products.
Perhaps best known among gardeners as the leading source for kits for growing edible mushrooms, Fungi Perfecti is also the place to look for help for beleaguered bee colonies. Since 2014, Paul Stamets has been working with entomologist Dr. Steve Sheppard, head of the Washington State University APIS Molecular Systematics Laboratory, exploring ways in which specific fungi may prove beneficial for honey bees. So far, for example, they’ve found that worker bees resist viral diseases and live longer when fed extracts of certain polypore mushrooms, perhaps in part because such extracts provide B vitamins and a wider range of phytochemicals, micronutrients, and myconutrients than the simple sugar syrups bees are usually fed. Another research effort involves introducing a fungal insect pathogen (Metarhizium spp.) to hives infested with Varroa mites. Bees easily groom away the fungal parasites, which prey heavily on the Varroa mites. Check the website for ongoing information about this and other fascinating fungal projects.
April Garden Warm Ups For Couch Potatoes
After a day of digging, I for one am definitely feeling at least a little of the daunting effects of age. I know I’m not alone, since at the first hint of spring, we gardeners all start bustling around, digging here, pulling up weeds there, carting bales of straw or bags of compost. Before we know it, the tweaks and twinges begin and by the next day, at least some of us will be too sore to walk properly. This year, instead of rushing out unprepared, take a little time to get yourself back in shape before attempting a full-on gardening day.
Here’s a great way to start you off on the right foot: First of all, find a place with safe footing and plenty of room for outstretched arms. Put on comfortable shoes and clothing that doesn’t bind. Next, holding a 5-pound potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try for 30 seconds and work up to a full minute over the next few days. The following week, up your game by using 10-pound potato bags. Gradually work your way up to 20 pound bags, then go for the gold and see if you can manage 50 pound bags. Once you’re confident in your new abilities, put a potato in each bag and take it from there.
Here’s A Real Stretch
While April traditionally starts with silliness, it’s quite true that warm ups will boost your garden performance and leave you less achy later. Years ago, when arthritis cramped my style, the gentle stretching and slow movements of tai chi helped me get back in the garden. Whether you practice tai chi or simply work on stretching and balancing each day, it can make a dramatic difference. Just walking attentively, shifting weight through the feet, dropping the center of balance, keeping the lower back open, all work to restore some suppleness to stiffening backs and knees. I especially appreciate my balance practice when I have to bend, stoop, crouch or kneel, and even more when I pry myself up again. I can also highly recommend practicing a straight-backed squat rather than kneeling. Keeping your spine straight and elongated helps counteract the spinal compression caused by excess sitting time. (Who, me?)
To prevent soreness, warm up all your joints before gardening. A few minutes of Saturday warmups can pay off all week! Start with 10 neck rolls, avoiding the backward position (tilt an ear to your shoulder, tuck your chin on your chest, then roll the other ear to its shoulder). Next, circle both shoulders 10 times, forwards and backwards. Raise your arms and rotate them at shoulder height 10 times in each directions. Now, with your arms at your sides, lightly clench your hands and circle your wrists 10 times forwards and backwards, then squeeze and release your hands 10 times. Shake out your hands lightly; they should tingle just a bit. To loosen the waist, do 10 hip circles in each direction (like using a hula hoop). Shake out each leg for a few seconds and jump almost-but-not-quite off the ground on both feet together 10 times. Gently shake out your hands and arms again for 5 seconds. After all that, you should feel brisk and warm, with all joints loosened up and ready for action. Onward!