February 2021 — Volume 11, No. 2
Happy Birthday, Pumpkin Brook — Celebrating 20 Years, 2001 - 2021!
Hello Everyone,
Late February marks the time when birds begin their spring songs and are more visible in the landscape. Happily, the sun is higher in the sky and days are growing longer. I see and hear bird activity each morning, taking this as a hopeful sign that winter is beginning to wane! In this issue, we’ll explore other slowly emerging signs of spring and share our plans for 2021.
We’re Moving! 
We have found larger facilities for our complete company in downtown Ayer. We’ll be 10 minutes from the highway, with a “shop” for tools, supplies, equipment, and materials plus our office—all under one roof. There is ample outdoor storage for plants, bulk materials, trucks, and trailers. The move-in date is March 1, giving us just enough time to organize before the season begins.

Our new address is: PO Box 369, Ayer, MA 01432. The phone number and email will remain the same.
Flexible warehouse and office space awaits PBOG’s presence in Ayer
Spring Letter Going Out Soon
We’re putting the finishing touches on seasonal programs for plant health care and maintenance now. Our spring letter will be delivered by US mail this year, so watch your mailbox.

Kim is available for virtual meetings to discuss details of your contract and maybe contacting you to arrange a time. She can be reached at <kimberly@pumpkinbrookorganicgardening.com>

Here are some changes this year: We have a new online client portal, accessible through our website. You will be receiving an email invitation to sign up. This is a secure place to view your visit schedule, find out what was done on the last few visits, and review electronic invoices and estimates. 
Vegetable Garden Setup and Care Offered
Our skilled staff loves to garden at home. Organic vegetable gardens are familiar territory. We’re happy to help you design a raised bed structure, pick a site and build it, fill with nutrient-dense soil mix, and plan the plantings! Tricky topics that are familiar to us include: when to sow seeds vs. planting seedlings, designing a fencing system to keep critters out, and coming up with succession crops as early plantings are harvested. We also continue to help clients analyze the vegetable bed soil and amend it each fall to be ready for early spring planting.
One of many options for your edible space
April is the perfect time to establish new perennial crops such as asparagus, berries, or other small fruits that are shipped bareroot. If you would like help planning or planting your personal patch of edibles, please contact Priscilla <phw@seedlingspecialist.com>
Focus on Compost Tea - What is it and why you should have it
We began our compost tea program back in 2007. At that time, the study of soil microorganisms (or soil biology) was just becoming mainstream through the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham. She found that almost any soil can have its biology boosted through the addition of an actively aerated compost tea. Compromised soils, especially with compaction following construction, respond especially well. Creating a living medium in this way for plants, both ornamental and edible, was shown through research to result in more resilient plants that could push through threats from pests and diseases.
PBOG’s early compost tea brewers
We brew our own product, beginning with a compost rich in the high fungal matter preferred by microorganisms in the soil. This is aerated for 24 hours in a large tank of water. The brew is then decanted to our spray trucks. Our Plant Health Care team, Reese and Rick, deliver the compost tea directly to your garden through long hoses with spray nozzles attached. A careful regimen of cleaning tanks and equipment is completed each afternoon before the brewing of the next day’s batch begins.

In addition, we use a microscope that allows us to sample the tea periodically and monitor the count of microorganisms.

The ideal compost tea program takes advantage of warming soil temperatures in spring and cooling down temperatures in fall. In the heat of summer, we offer Summer Foods to quite literally feed the rapidly expanding soil microbe populations. And we offer deep root feedings in spring and fall for both mature and newly-establishing trees and shrubs. This program is complemented by our fall soil amending program with granular minerals as determined by soil test results.

To initiate a new compost tea program this season, please contact Reese Crotteau, <reese@pumpkinbrookorganicgardening.com
Soil biology illustrated
Homegrown National Park Possible in Your Yard
Popular author and scientist Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope) has a new grassroots initiative afoot this season: Homegrown National Park. The idea is that we can all plant a small section of native plants at home and enjoy the wildlife that comes to partake of food and shelter.

This does not mean that we’re going to advocate throwing out your ornamental plants from other regions of the world! Instead, we will plan to gradually integrate natives so that they become a larger percentage of the total landscape. Doug likes to see natives at 80% of the total plant population, including overstory trees.

We at PBOG have been following Doug’s work for many years. His concept of providing more habitat for our native birds and pollinators by providing them with the most beneficial foods from native plants has resonated deeply. We like the idea of less bare ground covered with plain old mulch. We’d rather see layers of helpful vegetation beneath shrubs and continuous bloom or foliage throughout various spaces in your yard.

In 2021, we’re keeping track of the number of square feet of former lawn, neglected areas, or other bed space that we convert to native plantings. We’ll be updating this at the website, www.homegrownnationalpark.org where others around the country are doing the same.

I asked our Designer, Deanna Jayne, to speak about the whys and wherefores of her design process with native plants:

Q: Where do you start?

A: I ask a lot of questions, such as “How do you like to live in this outdoor space?” It could be an expansive vista, a cozy room, or something in between. And it’s good to know if the client wants to explore, relax or be active out there.

Then I think about how the space can complement them and the local flora and fauna as a community. Natives can be used to attract rare butterflies, grasses blow in the breeze, and shrubs provide nesting habitat and brilliant fall color.
Asclepias tuberosa and Echinacea purpurea,
photo by Lee Gadway
Q: What are some of your favorite native plant combinations?

A:  Echinacea ‘White Swan’ or Echinacea purpurea (Purple coneflower) with Asclepias tuberosa - the true orange color of the butterfly weed really shows off the orange cones of the echinacea, and they complement each other with their different heights.

White wood aster with brilliant green ferns growing near a tree’s bark.

Tall blueberry shrubs with lower blueberry shrubs in front.
Q: What can we plant in a very dry shady area that will attract pollinators?

A: Foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia, fragrant and loved by all

Wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, is the third-best pollinator plant in New England. Mix with our Plant Pick, Carex pensylvanica, for a stunning look.

Grey birch, Betula popuifolia, is host to many butterflies and moths and the most drought and shade tolerant of all birches.
Grey Birch with carpet of ferns and Carex pensylvanica
To arrange design work, please contact Deanna <deanna@pumpkinbrookorganicgardening.com>
Plant Pick - Carex pensylvanica, Pennsylvania sedge
This native grass quite literally jumps out of the snow with bright green, hairlike foliage. It makes a great lawn substitute, gradually spreading and filling in from small potted plants. Or use it as an accent among other low native flowering plants such as American ginger, American pachysandra, or Meehan’s mint. In earliest spring, we quickly shear back the foliage to let fresh growth emerge and bring back a three-dimensional look after being flattened by snow. That’s about it for maintenance.
On an early winter woodland walk, I found a grove of naturalized Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica carpets the woodland floor in spring
A detailed look at Carex pensylvanica
Pruning Red or Yellow Raspberries - Now is the time
That is, as soon as the snow and ice are about out of the way! Aim to finish before new buds emerge in March.

Begin by cutting out all dead canes to the base of the plant. These are very visible during this dormant season and will have a different color and lighter feel than live canes.

Next: select misshapen and thin canes to remove. Leave only healthy, strong canes. Ideally, pick the strongest new canes growing at 4” intervals and remove the rest. Then shorten all remaining canes to 18” height, or 12” if preferred.
Remove all debris completely from the garden to a burn pile or woody debris area. This helps reduce the spread of diseases and pests in the patch.

Plan to edge your bed of raspberries in April with a sharp half-moon edger or square edging shovel to prevent runners from spreading into unwanted areas. This will make picking easier come summer! We like to scratch in an organic fertilizer called Berry Mix at this time to boost bloom and fruit. Top off with a mulch of straw, shredded leaves, or aged woodchips to conserve moisture and protect roots.

We’ll address the pruning of black raspberries in the next issue, as these have different rules.
Question from You: Bulbs in snow
These daffodils will recover from the recent snowfall
Q: What will happen to my bulbs if a late snow comes after they’ve sent up new growth, or worse, if they’re already blooming?

A: Bulbs are surprisingly resilient and can tolerate cold temperatures well. Emerging bulb tips or stems will simply stop growing and wait for better weather conditions. While snow may knock blooming bulbs over temporarily, they will pop back up as soon as melting happens. I’ve experienced this with snowdrops, dwarf iris, and early daffodils and tulips that have started to bloom. Covering the bulbs with plastic or fabric sheeting may end up doing more harm than a light layer of snow.
Virtual Lecture Rescheduled: Natural control of pesky invasive plants
Groton Garden Club’s program had to be rescheduled due to a death in the presenter’s family. The new date is Saturday, February 27 at 2 pm. All previous registrants were shifted to the new presentation time. There is still an opportunity to sign up! Visit www.grotongardenclub.org
Priscilla’s Garden To-Do List for February into March

  • Watch for emerging color on witch hazel buds which can bloom in late winter, even with snow on the ground
  • Maple sap will start to flow when days are above freezing and night temperatures dip below freezing
  • Check yourself for ticks after time outdoors, as ticks are active whenever temperatures rise above 32 degrees
  • Continue planning 2021 garden improvements and check in with us for assistance
  • Sow seeds of the onion family indoors (onions, leeks, scallions, and shallots) along with pansies
  • Order seeds for later indoor starting (tomatoes, basil, etc) and outdoor direct sowing
  • Continue dormant pruning of fruit trees, raspberries (see article), crabapples, Roses of Sharon, and other deciduous trees and shrubs on dry days above 20 degrees
  • Allow snow and ice to melt naturally from outdoor plants, as brittle branches may readily crack at low temperatures
  • Use Safe Paw ice melt to protect your walkways, safeguarding plants and pets
  • Begin to feed houseplants with a low dilution of fish fertilizer every second or third week
  • Remove dead or discolored leaves from houseplants, checking for aphids, whiteflies, or scale
  • Enjoy forced bulbs indoors but discard after bloom is over
We all look forward to spring and our return to your garden! See you before too long,

Priscilla and the PBOG Crew
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Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening, Inc. 
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(978) 425-5531