By Becky Nelson
Things are starting to pop. Popped through the soil are lettuce, radishes, spinach, greens mix, and the first plantings in the hoophouse of peas, beans, cucumbers, squash, and beet greens. Outside, the grass has popped up enough to require its first haircut in the orchard, raspberry patch and lawns at the farm. Daffodils and jonquils have bloomed and are readying the way for tulips in the backyard. The world is green and lush and the recent rains have made the springtime a field of beauty and promise.
We finished pruning and cleaning up in the orchard last week. It is a bit later than we had hoped, but the cool weather has kept the buds tight. Pruning apples is a tedious and demanding process as we first cut out all the upright new growth that will shade new apples and urge new branches to grow in a lateral position to best support the heavy fruit load at the end of summer. We usually take out an overgrown branch or two to promote new growth and keep the top growth controlled so we can pick as much fruit from the ground as we can without the need for ladders. We can now see blossom cluster in the buds, so are excited that the apples will begin to show their crop potential.
The raspberry plants are starting to leaf out, which is a very rapid growth process, so we hope to finish spring pruning in a week or so. At this point of the season, we prune out any canes that are encroaching upon the middle aisles of walkway between the rows and then “top” the canes to promote the growth of the spurs that will hold fruit. The fall pruning process was much more involved with pruning out all the old canes that bore berries, thinning the new growth so the rows will not be complete jungles in the summer (leading to small and inaccessible berries) and taking out any weak growth that would have been numbed by winter. “Topping” and pruning in the spring is always kind of exciting as we look forward to a berry crop in just a few short months.
The blueberry plants will also still need to be pruned, taking out any stray growth and training the plants into an upright and strong position to hold the luscious clumps of blue beauty in late July. We cut out any fungus growth of “witches broom” and check the plants for health as we do the pruning. Then we will mulch the base of the plants with bark mulch to keep the weed process at bay and give the blueberry plants the acids they enjoy for growth as the wood breaks down. Just as we are finishing up the last of the pruning, picking will begin of the hoophouse crops. Some of the greens are ready to pick this weekend, and it will be a welcome chore after the long, cold days of winter and spring.
Where the wild things grow, the picking process is already underway. We pick (dig) a few batches of dandelion greens every spring for our loyal folks at the store who enjoy the bitter greens as the first taste and tonic of spring. A versatile plant, both leaves and flowers can be eaten, though after flowering we stop picking as the greens become much more bitter. A lot like chicory in flavor, the greens are wonderful steamed, boiled or stir-fried, and are an easy source of a springtime meal. We also enjoy offering ramps (wild onions) and fiddleheads (baby Ostrich Fern fronds) in the spring, buying from local foragers who assure us the plants are picked in a responsible and sustainable way so that over-picking will not disrupt the natural order.
As I gaze out the window as I write at the blue skies creeping in after the rains, the fog drifting down the Sugar River in the distance and the green all around, a turkey pecking its way up the field below my house in the corn stubble and rye grass, see the lilac buds swelling and the greenery growing, I feel blessed. Life throws monkey wrenches at us at every step, but we are fortunate to live and work in such a beautiful part of the world. This little pocket of paradise can lift the soul and cheer the mind just by looking and enjoying, and I feel like a queen being able to protect and preserve the heritage and greenery around me. Enjoy your springtime tonic, folks. Time is short as the seasons drift by and we need to seize the days as they come along.
Becky Nelson is co-owner of Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, New Hampshire. email@example.com.