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Garden Optimism

05/15/02 12:00AM By Vern Grubinger
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(Host) Commentator Vern Grubinger says that gardeners are natural optimists, especially in the spring.

(Grubinger) Now that summer's almost here, optimism abounds. Red Sox fans think, "World Series," students hope for straight A's, and gardeners dream of their crops to come. My seedlings are sown, my soil is fertile, and my thumbs are green once again. Forget bygone weather woes and pests. Optimism is the engine of horticulture in Vermont.

These are my plans for the coming season. After a wobbly start, temperatures will settle in for the summer at about 75 degrees and stay there. Rainfall will be uniform. An inch or two every week, between Monday and Friday, sunny on weekends. There may be hail, flood or drought elsewhere, but we'll have none of that. The season will stretch on, the first frost holding off until after a bumper crop of fall raspberries.

Japanese beetles and European corn borer will promote international harmony by doing no damage on these shores. Blights, wilts, scab and smut - none of these will 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 making some practical plans, too. I put up a deer fence around the flower garden. And I'm going to put trickle irrigation in the vegetable garden, attached to the outdoor spigot. For a hundred dollars I got all the components I need to save me from standing around like a human sprinkler.

This year, I'm swearing off manure, since it usually contains a gazillion weed seeds. Instead, I'll be mixing a couple of inches of well-made compost into each bed before planting annuals, and spreading a layer around the perennials.

My garden security plan will screen out the terror of flea beetles, potato beetles and cabbage maggot flies. I'll be covering many early-season crops with a floating row cover that lets sun and water in, but keeps pests out. Then I'll follow with biological warfare by applying B.t. the minute young caterpillars are sighted. On my apples, I'll use a new non-toxic insecticide made from kaolin clay, 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 with a thin blade for cutting off small weeds in tight places.

Of course, the joy of gardening comes not just from triumphs over weather and critters. There's also the pleasure of trying something new. This year I'll be checking out edamame, also known as vegetable soybean. I've ordered multicolored radishes, red and yellow carrots and purple tomatillos. At the end of summer, I'll plant strawberry plugs for harvest the following spring.

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.

With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

(Host) Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture. More information on vegetable and berry production in Vermont is available from the University of Vermont Extension.
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