Last Saturday’s plant sale brought dozens of folks out of the woodwork. And because we wore masks, the gathering of gardeners took on a masquerade look.
“Marion, is that you?” queried a would-be grower.
“Yes it is. Are you Carol?”
“Do you have any mint for sale?”
And so the morning went, our voices muffled through cotton fabric and filters.
Eyeglasses steamed up, a few masks slipped below our noses — a wardrobe malfunction that was often adjusted by muddy fingers.
In spite of the fog and rain, the community answered the call to support Kodiak Public Broadcasting by purchasing plants — within an hour, nearly all plants, from oregano and cucumber seedlings to buckets of raspberries and totes of rhubarb.
Board member Mary Forbes was especially pleased with the turnout.
“It was wonderful to see so many smiling faces show up to support the event,” she said.
While people stood in line to pay for their green booty, I fielded gardening questions. One person asked, “When is the sun coming back?” Several heads turned.
Here are two questions from the sale:
Q: When’s the best time to transplant seedlings into the ground?
A: When it’s not sunny and warm.
Plants grown indoors or living in the comfort of a greenhouse need to be acclimated to sunlight, rain and wind over a week’s period before being transplanted outdoors. This is called “hardening off.”
Do this without fail, lest your plants do a fatal faceplant onto the soil. Here’s the deal:
1) Begin a week before you plan to set plants in their permanent outdoor homes. (If your seedlings and plants have already been acclimated to the outdoors, then you can skip this step).
Set them outdoors in a protected area, out of the direct wind and sun. Leave them outside for a few hours, then bring them back indoors. (The routine will be familiar to cat and dog owners: Let dog in; let dog out).
2) Repeat the process, increasing the hours until you’re able to leave them outside.
3) Keep them well-watered, but not swimming. Otherwise, root rot can set in. It also helps to toughen them up by gently brushing your hand across them a few times each day.
4) If the weatherman calls for frost, heavy rain or windy conditions, “give them shelter from the storm,” a line from the title song by Karen Carpenter for “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” a movie that came out in the 1970s.
When planting day nears, watch for a cloudy or foggy day. (I don’t need to describe what those conditions are like, right?)
1) If needed, water plants well.
2) Dig a hole slightly wider than, and the same depth as, the container. For cabbage-family crops, bury their stems up to their first set of true leaves. For lettuce, not so deep. Crown rot can set in. For tomatoes, bury most of the stem, leaving just the top leaves.
3) If your transplants are in pots, turn them upside down and slide them out. Gently squeeze the bottom of the pot to dislodge stubborn roots. Be careful not to tear them.
4) In an ideal world, you’d toss a handful of compost into the hole before setting the plant on top.
5) Fill soil around the plant and tamp it firmly with your hands.
6) If necessary, soak it with water.
7) Now pay attention to the weather. You may need to cover your plants with plastic milk jugs (minus their bottoms), clear plastic, sheets and so on to protect them from wind, rain, frost and direct sun.
Q: What if some of my rhubarb plants send up flower stalks?
A: We humans can be so difficult to please. If plants flower when we want them to, we call it blooming. But if plants flowers when we don’t want them to, we call it bolting. For rhubarb, flowering would be considered bolting.
Why does rhubarb bolt? Well, think like a plant. It’s just part of the natural cycle where flowering leads to the production of seed. There is no harm in letting your rhubarb flower, but keep in mind that rhubarb plants outlay energy toward making a flower and growing seeds — energy that will not go toward growing stems and leaves. That’s why most gardeners remove the flowers as soon as they appear.
Some varieties tend to bolt more than others. And if your rhubarb clump is several years old, consider dividing it. It tends to turn back the clock on the plant’s maturity and helps reduce flowering. It’s also important to ensure that your rhubarb is as stress free as possible.
Rhubarb prefers a cool, damp climate, and last year’s dry summer produced more than its share of rhubarb flowers. If your rhubarb sends up a flower stalks, there’s really nothing to worry about. You can still use the stems for cooking. Besides, the next time you’re online, Google “ornamental rhubarb.” You might be surprised at how beautiful rhubarb can be.
Lawns: Water only. Don’t fertilizer. Let it green up.
Dandelions: They are back. And they will keep coming back no matter what you do, so learn to either eat them, enjoy them or mow them. And if you plan to mow them, please hold off. Let them be yellow for a while so bumblebees and other pollinators can enjoy a decent meal.
If you insist on trying to get rid of them, avoid chemicals. Listen to what Anchorage garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels says: “Under no circumstances should any self-respecting gardener and human being use a weed and feed product. No poisons are allowed anymore in gardens and yards. It is a new rule.”