Gardening On Delmarva - Spring Report

by Scott Duncan

Scott Duncan will tell us how things are going so far this year for the Delmarva gardener.

For the second year in a row, Delmarva gardeners looked nervously at the weather in March and April wondering if Spring was ever going to arrive.

Of course it did, but not without some last minute dramatics in the form of freezing temperatures in my area right up to April 12th. I was prevented from starting some new fruit trees until early March because the ground was frozen solid. And then, as I noted in my garden calendar, by March 21 the soil was still too soggy to work because of all the rain. But eventually things dried out, the weather moderated, and my peas went into the ground.

A few days later I transplanted all the seedlings I'd started indoors: Packman broccoli, Early Wakefield cabbage, Snow Crown cauliflower, Tyee spinach, Early Wonder beets, Black-seeded Simpson and Red Sails lettuce. These were joined soon after by Red Norland and Kennebec potatoes. And so we begin the excitement and challenges of another year of "Gardening on Delmarva".

My winter project for this season was to rebuild my three-bin compost structure which had deteriorated badly after extensive use over the past 10 years. I like the three-bin model because I can make piles of compostable material in two of the bins and use the empty one to turn over the piles as they heat up. If you remix the piles frequently, it accelerates the decay process and within a matter of weeks, you'll have rich, healthy compost for your garden.

For compost materials I use a combination of grass cuttings (as a nitrogen source), and partially rotted straw and horse manure from a nearby stable as a carbon source. You'll find plenty of references about composting in your local library or through the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center ( If you don't want to build your own, there are many commercially available composters. However you do it, I highly recommend compost as an ingredient for successful gardening: it's a source of high-quality nutrition, it improves soil structure and moisture retention, and it can actually protect plants from certain diseases.

Beekeepers on Delmarva struggled again with losses over the winter; some lost as many as forty percent of their hives. My hive made it through okay but only after a scare during one of the coldest, windiest nights when the top blew off the hive, exposing the bees to freezing temperatures for an unknown number of hours before I discovered the problem the next morning. Fortunately, they survived. As soon as weather permitted I fed them sugar syrup (photo) to stimulate egg-laying by the queen to increase the hive population in anticipation of the spring nectar flow.

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