Common Ground


“To anyone who has spent a winter in the north…the first hint of spring is a major event….to appreciate it, you must wait for it for a long time, hope and dream about it, and go through considerable enduring.”

Sigurd Olson, The Singing Wilderness

Just before what I hope was the last snowstorm of the year I looked out and saw a deer in the vegetable garden. She was grazing on what was left of last year’s kale. And she wasn’t alone; she had a few friends with her. After she finished eating the kale right to the ground, she gracefully jumped the fence and headed for the bush. This answered the question once and for all about whether the fence is useful or decorative.

The deer are welcome to the kale. It was tough as old boots in last year’s heat and I don’t think I’ll plant any this year. Far better for greens is spinach. You can’t go wrong with Longstanding Bloomsdale, Sardinia or Tyee. Of course spinach bolts once it gets hot (unlike kale) but for my money tastes a lot better than kale. You can easily extend your spinach season into July with a shade cloth.

Swiss chard is another green that I have had good luck with even in the heat. Red chard is pretty in the garden but any variety will do.

Arugula grew well here all last summer in spite of the drought conditions. It does flower once it gets hot but it doesn’t mind being cut back and will grow again. The taste of the leaves gets hotter as the season goes on. But presumably if you are growing it in the first place the peppery taste doesn’t bother you.

The presence of several deer might not bode well for the snow peas I intend to plant as soon as the ground is workable. The sandy soil here is ready for cold weather crops as soon as I can walk on it and not leave a deep footprint.

I always plant old reliable Oregon Giant and will try a new one this year, the yellow podded Golden Sweet.

Maybe I’m planting deer food. Best to be optimistic, though, and hope the deer will move on to the neighbours’ gardens.

To support snow peas I use an expandable zig zag metal trellis from Vesey’s. There was a time when I used more picturesque rustic sticks to support them. But now I’m lazier and the trellis is easier and folds flat when not in use.

For pole beans, though, I still use the traditional ten to twelve foot cedar poles cut on the property. They have lasted for years since I store them inside in the winter.

I have been growing a purple pole bean, Carminat, for a few years now. The plant is pretty enough to be used as an ornamental. It has purple flowers and leaves as well as purple podded beans. I discovered one year when I couldn’t face another fresh bean, that Carminat also makes a good dried bean. I just left the pods and harvested the dried beans in the fall.

But I am getting ahead of myself talking about beans which can’t be planted until the end of May. April is the time for planting cold weather vegetables like peas, snow peas and various greens. Plant kale if you must but if deer arrive en masse don’t say you weren’t warned.

Finally, a word about plant names. I have been asked if it’s really necessary to learn the Latin names of plants. In a word yes it is necessary. Some plants have no common name (Calendula springs to mind) and in other cases it avoids confusion.

In his recent book The Secret Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben incorrectly refers to the spring wildflower Hepatica as a Liverwort. Hepatica comes from the Latin word for liver. But a Liverwort is a bryophyte like mosses and lichens and is completely unrelated to the little spring ephemeral. He should have stuck to its Latin name which is Hepatica. Then it would have been obvious what he was talking about.

Happy long awaited spring. Let’s all get out there and plant those early vegetables.

By Jill Williams

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