This year, my garden is shaping up to become the Year of the Snake. I reached for an egg in my chickenhouse this morning and a five-foot-long black rat snake slithered into a corner in displeasure. Yesterday I pulled back the cover on my compost pile and disturbed a couple of black rat snakes - a couple, literally - in flagrante delicto. Sorry! In past years I've come upon as many as two dozen of their eggs nestled in the moist warmth of my compost pile. And then, this afternoon, I reached down to pull out some Virginia creeper trying to sneak in at the base of a rosebush, and out slithered a garter snake from beneath the cover of leaves.
The snakes are welcome, sort of - as long as they don't eat too many eggs. As if driven by some primal alarm, I also can't ever seem to get used to coming upon them.
Update on the rat snakes' egg diet: My chickenhouse is snakeproof when closed up; and by keeping it closed up until most eggs have been laid, I may have convinced the snakes to look elsewhere for their free and easy lunch. By mid-morning the chickens are ready to go out "on the range."
Tomorrow I'm planting green beans. Why so late in the season? It's not late; it's my second planting of beans.
I grow bush green beans - Blue Lake and Romano - which ripen quickly, beginning within a couple of months. Then they peter out. So in a month or so I'll make yet another planting of bush beans.
I used to grow pole beans, which start bearing a little later than bush beans and then keep climbing and bearing all season long. But my garden has a problem with Mexican bean beetles, which can decimate a whole green bean planting. With multiple plantings of bush beans, I can have a continuous supply of beans, as long as I rip out each planting before the bean beetles become too populous on it. I whisk the plants right into my compost pile, whose heat cooks them.
I did plant a couple of hills of one kind of pole bean: the beautiful Scarlet Runner bean, which is sometimes grown solely for its showy, scarlet flowers. This bean is a different species from regular green beans - evidently not to the liking of bean beetles. It bears a coarse, hairy pod that, although quite ugly, is very delicious.
I just picked the first strawberry of the season and, of course, it was delectable. Despite the two late, heavy frosts of a few weeks ago, my plants are loaded down with fruits in various stages of size and ripeness - thanks to the blanket that I threw over the bed on those two frosty nights.
A robin gave me a sour look as I made a frame over the strawberry bed, then covered it with bird netting. No need for the bad humor; there'll be plenty of elderberries, saskatoons and other wild berries, including wild strawberries, for her and the other birds. And anyway, the birds mostly just take a peck at strawberries, not finishing any fruits, but ruining them for me.
Some people have trouble with chipmunks eating their strawberries. Not me, which is perhaps why I still like these cute creatures. The black rat snakes probably keep the chipmunks away.
And now for a commercial message: I'm holding a gardening workshop on "How to Grow a Lot of Vegetables with Little Space, Time and Effort" at my garden from 7 to 9 p.m. on June 24. We'll cover site selection, plant and variety selection and, most important, planning. Registration is limited, so if you're definitely interested, reserve your spot by rushing me a check (387 Springtown Road, New Paltz, NY 12561, include your e-mail address or phone number). The cost is $25. For more information, e-mail me or call (845) 255-0417.
And...I'll also be speaking about gardening at a luncheon produced by the New Paltz Chamber of Commerce at 36 Main Restaurant and Wine Bar on Wednesday, June 18 from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. The cost, which includes a delicious lunch, is $25 for Chamber members, $18 for non-members.
@ Lee Reich
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at email@example.com and I'll try answering them directly or in this Alm@nac column.