I made turkey and dumplings earlier this month when it still felt like winter. It is one of our favorite cold-weather meals, and it "sticks to your ribs," as the saying goes.
While I was preparing it, I was thinking about the similarities between cooking and gardening. Not just that we cook food that we grow in our gardens, raise on our farms or purchase from some of our fine local producers, but the similarities that make us good cooks or good gardeners.
Let's take my turkey and dumplings as an example of what I mean. I stew turkey drumsticks using a recipe that I learned from my mother. The ingredients I add to the pot and the timing of when I add them makes a huge difference in the finished dish.
Even more crucial is the addition of the raw-dumpling mixture to the bubbling stew. As my mother taught me, and I in turn taught my daughter, it's all about the timing.
If I am careless about the timing, what I put on the dinner table may bear no resemblance to what I had intended, and few foods are less appetizing than soggy, lumpy dumplings.
Now think about your lawn and garden.
Everything you do in your garden or with your lawn will have an effect, but it may not be the effect you want if the timing is not correct. If the weather continues to be warm and the lawns begin to green, it may be tempting to apply fertilizer. Unfortunately, that would result in more top growth at the expense of the roots. Lush, succulent growth may also attract more insects. The best time to fertilize is around Labor Day.
It is also tempting to begin working our garden soil as the weather warms, but working soil that is too wet can be very damaging to the soil structure. You won't see the damage but will likely see less than ideal results in your garden.
Your soil is ready to work when it breaks into cake-crumb like particles when you have squeezed it and then broken the clump with your thumb. When thinking about planting seeds, remember that the temperature of the soil plays a large part in the germination process. Again, timing is important.
A frustration for many homeowners is waking up one morning and finding the yard full of shallow, cup-like holes surrounded by clumps of disturbed lawn. A few days or weeks before, they may have noticed brown patches in the lawn. Those of you who have had this experience may recognize the signs of grub and skunk damage.
The skunks are feasting on grubs that have feasted the previous fall on the roots of your lawn. If the damage is more than you are willing to tolerate, there are remedies, but again, timing is everything. Grubs have an interesting life cycle that begins when a beetle emerges from the soil in early July, mates, lays eggs that hatch in mid-August and overwinter deep underground. Only when the young grubs are near the soil surface can they be controlled. In the spring they are too large, and at other times of year they are too deep.
There are always options to consider when making decisions about your yard and gardens. We would be happy to help you explore what they are and when to implement them, because it really is all about the timing.
Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.