The gardening season is under way with perfect timing, a week off from teaching and nothing to keep me out of the garden. The shadblow serviceberry in Marjorie’s Garden has burst into bloom on the heels of the native honeysuckle and the soil temperature reached 53 degrees by midweek. I stayed in the garden from dawn to dusk, building new raised beds, spreading sifted compost on every bed, planting peas and potatoes. Plus, I put up a mailbox in the garden.

Planting peas and potatoes

Yes, it’s time to sow snow peas and sugar snap peas, perhaps a bit earlier than some years but soil temperatures are perfect, the soil workable. We sowed seeds of both types 1-2 inches apart and an inch deep in double rows, each row 6 inches from its mate and each pair of rows about 18 inches apart. Between rows we pushed birch branches into the soil, leaving the long thin twigs on the upper two-thirds and placing the branches close enough to form a lattice for tendrils to grasp as the plants vine upward. The branches were cut from yellow birches and the smell of wintergreen at the cut ends provided yet another sign of spring.

After covering the seeds with soil and watering well, I scattered a dry straw mulch over the entire bed, keeping it thin enough for sunlight to continue warming the soil. The seeds will germinate in 7-10 days and the lush seedling growth will quickly shade the ground, preventing weed seeds from germinating and keeping the soil cool.

Potatoes also went in this week, at least two weeks earlier than last year. We set the seed potatoes, Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold, 10 inches apart in a foot-deep trench and covered them with about an inch of soil. In three weeks, when the shoots are a foot tall, I’ll mound soil from the edges against the stems, burying them halfway. This hilling will be repeated throughout the summer as the plants grow and tubers will form along the buried stems.

When the shoots first emerge from the bottom of the trenches, we will cover the potato bed with a lightweight row cover, the edges anchored against the soil with stones, to exclude the Colorado potato beetle. The cover will remain over the plants through the summer.

Sifting compost

Every garden bed was amended this past week with a two-inch layer of composted goat manure. We purchased two pickup loads of the manure-stable litter mix from a local goat farm last fall and let it age through the winter under a tarp. The aged compost is sifted through a screen of quarter-inch hardware cloth sandwiched between wooden slats on all four sides, its size designed to rest squarely on top of the wheelbarrow. We pile on the composted manure, rake it over the wire mesh and use what falls through to amend the soil. The larger clumps get tossed onto the garden compost pile.

A mailbox in the garden

I don’t want to leave the garden in summer, not even to pick up the mail. So, I spent one morning this past week attaching a mailbox on the inside of the garden gate post, one of those really large mailboxes. Now all I have to do is convince the mail carrier to drive down the potholed road with the daily delivery.

Meanwhile, I plan on using this mailbox to store often-used small tools and supplies, such as the dandelion wrench and short-handled three-tined cultivator, a ball of twine, the Velcro tape we used to tie tomatoes and cucumbers to their supports, a carpenter’s pencil or two and the pencil sharpener, the garden journal and the soil thermometer. The mailbox is going to cut my daily trips from garden to basement in half, at least.

Upcoming flowering perennial sale

Mark your calendar! From 8 a.m. to noon, on May 19, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension office in Ellsworth will hold its annual flowering perennial plant sale. Master Gardener volunteers are digging, dividing and potting a wide variety of perennials, including native species such as hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), goldenrod (Solidago sp.), slender blueflag iris (Iris prismatica) and a host of other popular garden perennials.

Plan to spend the entire morning. There will be workshops by Master Gardener volunteers on a variety of topics, including “Worm Composting” with David Struck, “Gardening with Greater Ease: Tips to Save Your Back, Wrists, and Knees” with Deborah Page and a tour of the surrounding native plant landscape, including a rain garden, by yours truly. Gardening gurus will staff an “Ask a Master Gardener Table” ready to answer any horticultural question, and handouts of UMaine Cooperative Extension gardening fact sheets will be available.

Refreshments will be served and there will be two raffles, one for a worm bin, another for a pickup load of composted goat manure (nannyberries) from Seal Cove Farm.

This is sure to be the perennial plant sale of the season, so plan to come and help support the UMaine Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program.

The scheduled times for workshops and the native plant landscape tour will be available in this column next week.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to Include name, address and telephone number.