April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. — T.S. Eliot

April has indeed been cruel; the lilacs' leaves are barely budding, and those "dull roots" Eliot mentions better be sharpening up with all this rain falling out of the sky. Sheesh. We could all do with that 75-degrees-and-sunny day that brings about abrupt, overnight greening in Urbana-Champaign, the kind that takes your breath away when you wake up the next morning. Spring needs to assert herself here.

Outdoor garden work chez B-K, usually a balm for my cabin-fevered brain and body in April, has been spotty, with rain happening to fall just when we have time to get out there (and brothers coming to town to run marathons when it's nice). The peas, radishes, and spinach I planted weeks ago are up and thriving, though — all of those things LOVE this weather — and I noticed a couple of days ago that my neighbor's asparagus is starting to poke its tentacles through the earth.

The seeds I planted indoors a couple of weeks ago are up. I've always been able to get more plants than I need when I start things inside, and this year will be no exception, but I'm not really good at seed starting. My seedlings tend to dry out quickly or get a little bit of fungus from being too wet. I can't win! However, I manage to have more tomato plants than I know what to do with, so... anyway, they're up. I had terrible germination luck this year with herbs. Terrible — the parsley and the basil have surprised me with their bad germination! The peppers are on their way, and the tomatoes are doing fine, with the super-fancy heirloom varieties I started for a friend germinating, for the most part, and growing into vigorous starts.

In the main, I'm waiting for things to clear off and dry out so I can clean up the garden that never went to bed — compost the dead stuff, clear the way for the perennials that have been quietly coming up while I've been complaining about the weather, and prepare the soil for new plants and seeds — which reminds me — Landscape Recycling Center's annual sale is happening right now. They have the best compost ever: it's inexpensive, it's local, and it's damn good for your garden beds. They have mulch, too. They deliver, but it can take awhile, so I recommend borrowing someone's pickup and getting a load yourself. This stuff is much better than anything you can get in a bag at the grocery store and the extra effort is worth it!

Other things you can do while you wait for spring to really arrive:

  • Give your residence a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning. This site has a few good, basic recipes for homemade, "clean" cleaning solutions; a search on the internet will yield countless results. If you don't like making your own stuff, I can heartily recommend the Mrs. Meyers line (geranium scent for me, please).
  • It's not just about scrubbing everything down and airing everything out, either. Springtime can also be about going through your possessions and deciding what's really worth keeping vs. what's really worth donating, recycling, or throwing out. Serious cleaning is not just the physical exercise of scrubbing your living spaces, but an emotional one too. "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful", said William Morris. And while "useful" and "beautiful" are defined differently by different people, we all have plenty of stuff in our living spaces that we don't really care about that someone else might.
  • Welcome the new season of eating by hitting one of our awesome libraries for some cookbooks. Even if you don't have a garden, Market at the Square is starting on May 2, and you are going to want to know what to do with all that asparagus and spinach.

Next time: the real dirt on garden maintenance.