Plans for this past weekend included digging the parsnips. I’ve heard that these white relatives of carrots and parsley taste sweeter when they’ve spent a winter mulched and under snow.

However, as much as I hacked and dug, there was no way we were going to test that theory anytime soon.

The parsnip patch is still covered in snow and the parsnips are still solidly embraced by the soil. So hopes are that maybe next week the ice will release some of these vegetables for adding to soups and stews.

But that’s OK.

April is a time for many other garden-related activities.

By the end of the month, some people will be able to plant peas. That won’t happen in my garden, but for those in Zone 5, which includes the Lewiston-Auburn area and some other parts of central and western Maine, the first things that go in the ground are peas.

Tradition has always held that fresh peas and creamed salmon are served on the Fourth of July. Unfortunately, not here.

But peas, root crops, lettuce, onions and spinach, as well as another crop of parsnips are usually the first vegetables planted in late April or early May.

Then come the potatoes, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, while waiting until the temperature of the soil rises enough to plant other crops.

In the meantime:

* Now’s the time to spread manure over the entire garden, as well as to scatter wood ash, if available, over every part of the garden except where the potatoes will be planted. Wood ash tends to cause scabs on potatoes.

* The rhubarb patch will soon appear as tiny, red and green balls. In a few weeks, the bright red stalks will be ready for cutting. Rhubarb was called the pie plant by our ancestors because it was the first fresh food available to them to bake into sweet, tangy desserts after a cold winter.

* Get into the perennial flower bed and remove stalks left over from the last season and any debris that may have landed in it. Then add a bit more soil and fertilizer. Some of the bulbs may have popped out of the soil as it thawed. Push them back in.

* Divide and transplant perennials now.

* Later in the month, or early in May, start the search for one of New England’s favorite wild plants, fiddleheads. Many people have their own, secret places they visit every year. Others take advantage of quantity pickers who offer the delicate unfurled ostrich ferns from the back of their trucks beside the road.

* Make sure the tiller and lawn mower are ready to go to work as soon as the soil thaws and the lawn begins to turn green. If cucumbers and other viney crops will be planted, build a few trellises. This saves room in the garden and helps keep the cukes off the soil.

* Take a good look at the garden space and decide whether some changes should be made. Consider planting a few vegetables in beds, straw bales, large containers or even in its own patch. I usually till a couple of patches outside of the garden proper to plant pumpkins/winter squash or three sisters (pole beans, pumpkins and corn as a unit).

* Make a list of seeds and seedlings that must be purchased when it’s time for planting.

* Try something new! Not only is this fun, but you never know what new vegetable or flower may become a favorite.

* Start saving newspapers to use as mulch, and to line the spaces between rows. Cover the newspapers with hay or another suitable material. This not only helps to keep plants moist, but it also greatly reduces the need for weeding.

* Clear the weeds and grass from asparagus beds, then fertilize and mulch.

Best of all, April is when we begin another growing season, and with it, all the joys and disappointments that come with gardening.

It’s time to plant. And it’s time to watch once again the miracle of a tiny seed transforming itself into a lovely or nutritious plant.

Eileen M. Adams has been gardening for decades. She still gets a thrill when seeds germinate and grow, and she can do her vegetable shopping right in the backyard. She may be reached at [email protected]


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