by Dr. Vern Grubinger Vegetable and Berry Specialist
University of Vermont Extension

With springtime just around the corner, optimism abounds.
Red Sox fans think World Series; school children hope
for straight A’s; and gardeners dream of their vegetables,
fruit, and flowers to come.

My seed catalogs are dog-eared, the dilly beans are
gone and it’s too early to plant much in the windowsill.
So what else is there to do but plan for the best garden
ever? Forget last year’s weather woes and pest problems.
Optimism is the engine of horticulture in Vermont.

These are my predictions for the coming season. The
last frost in early April will be followed by steady
warming until summer temperatures hit 75 to 80 degrees
F–and stay there. Rainfall will be uniformly distributed.
An inch or two every week, between Mondays and Fridays,
with full sun on weekends.

There may be hail, flood or drought in other states,
but we’ll have none of that. The season will stretch
on into autumn, the first frost holding off until after
a bumper crop of fall raspberries has been picked.

Japanese beetles and European corn borer will promote
international harmony by doing no damage on these shores.
Blights, wilts, scab, and smut will not live up to their
names. Birds and bunnies will find enough food in the
wild. And the local deer herd will enjoy a menu that
doesn’t include cultivated crops.

Just in case these fantasies don’t come true, I am
making some practical plans, too, trying a few new things
in the garden this year to tilt nature’s balance in
my favor. I’m attaching a trickle irrigation system
to the outdoor spigot. For a hundred bucks I can get
all the components, including a filter, pressure regulator,
tubing, connectors and oodles of drip tape. Another
60 dollars buys a programmable water timer. This system
will save many hours of dragging hoses and standing
around like a human sprinkler. Plus, my plants are going
to get the steady supply of water they need to grow
best. And since leaves won’t be getting wet as often,
foliar fungi like tomato early blight will be kept at

Once my crops are growing like Jack’s proverbial bean
stalk, they’ll need plenty of nutrients. Instead of
applying lime and fertilizer based on intuition, this
year I’m going to test my soil and apply only what’s
recommended. I’m swearing-off manure that’s not fully
composted, since it usually contains vast quantities
of weed seeds, and it has the potential to cause illness
if it splashes onto food crops. Instead, I’ll be mixing
a couple of inches of mature compost into each bed before
planting annuals or spreading a layer around my perennials.
However, I’ll still get my load of manure–to make next
year’s compost.

My homeland security plan for the garden emphasizes
exclusion to manage the onslaught of flea beetles, potato
beetles, and cabbage maggot flies. I’ll be covering
many early-season crops with a floating row cover like
Remay, a lightweight cloth that lets sun and water in,
but keepspests out, as long as the edged are covered
with soil and weighed down with rocks. The moment young
caterpillar pests arrive I’ll be ready to with B.t.
biological insecticide to keep them under control, without
harming beneficial insects. On my apples, I’ll use a
non-toxic insecticide made from kaolin clay, called
Surround, to suppress plum curculio.

For noxious weeds (Is there another kind?) I’m planning
on hand-to-hand combat. I’ve sharpened my trusty old
hoes, and even ordered a special ‘collinear’ hoe, designed
by horticultural guru Elliot Coleman. It has a special
thin blade for cutting off small weeds in tight places,
before they become big weeds.

Of course, the joy of gardening comes not just from
triumphs over uncooperative weather and ravenous critters.
There’s also the pleasure of trying new crops, cultivars,
and growing techniques. This year I’ll be trying out
edamame, also known as vegetable soybean or butterbean.
I’ve ordered multicolored radishes, red and yellow carrots,
and purple tomatillos. Like many commercial growers,
I’ll experiment with planting strawberry plugs in the
fall and harvesting fruit the following spring, rather
than growing the plants for a whole year before harvest.

Some of my plans will bear fruit, and others may wilt,
but one thing I know for sure. By the end of next winter
I’ll be dreaming of the perfect garden once again.

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