I love April. So many changes and surprises from critters to new colors along the roadside and in the woods. Just today I saw a Baltimore Oriole at my feeder and last week a beaver waddled across the road to the river. The red maples line the roadside with their red blossoms and the sugar maples glow vibrant green.
Every spring the Nature Museum, garden clubs, and libraries offer inspiring workshops taught by lively experts on plants, birds, and gardens. In Vermont, by late March and April, we are ready to head into the woods and the gardens despite the mud and cool temperatures. Always the hungry student, I soak it all in like the thirsty ground soaking up the spring rain.
Our big project this April was to create our mushroom farm. I had attended a web- based course called Backyard Woods this past winter, and the goal was to come up with three woodland projects. Ian and I chose to create a mushroom farm as our first project. The other two were to develop the trail to the waterfall, including a new bridge, and cultivate more pollinator-friendly shrubs and plants around the yard and forest edge.
Here are the steps we took to create our mushroom patch:
In mid-April, Ian cut off two sugar maple branches from one of our trees. This had to be done before the tree leafed out to conserve the moisture in the limbs. He cut them into 4′ lengths that fit nicely into the John Deere bucket.
We then sent away to North Spore for our mushroom plugs and the drill bit sized to the plugs. We ordered 100 plugs each of Golden Oyster and Shiitake Mushroom spores.
It only took about two hours to drill, plug and paint the logs with wax to seal in the spores. Now, the hard part– waiting a year for the mushrooms to sprout from the logs. I will be sure to document the harvest next May.
Meanwhile, I plan to forage for Morel Mushrooms this next month. It has been warm so far, so mid-May will probably be harvest time. I look around for elm, ash and old apple trees. I have one spot I return to each year and have had good fortune for the past three years. I have an experienced mushroom coach who taught me how to look, and she accompanies me each year for the hunt. If only I could teach Coco to become a morel hound!
The gardens are in good shape this year. The daffodils are all up and have decorated the lawn since Easter. Their yellow is cheery and matches the goldfinches at the feeder. I say that God painted them out of the same paint pot. The forsythia are equally bright. Next color on the horizon is pink. The azaleas, rhododendrons and creeping phlox are ready to burst forth in May.
The goldfinches, rose-breasted grosbeaks, chickadees and woodpeckers been enjoying the feeders, and I continue to break the law by leaving them out beyond April 1st. The bear has not yet appeared, but I am tempting fate a bit so I will begin to bring them in at night to avoid finding bent poles and missing feeders in the morning.
Every morning brings something new to see and hear outside. Taking the dog out for her dawn walk allows me that time to connect with nature. Living on a country road, I am comfortable outside in my long bathrobe and slippers. Sometimes I duck behind the garage when a neighbor drives by, but if caught out, I just wave and smile. I inspect the flower beds, gaze into the woods and then check on the chickens. Are all eight in the pen? Is their food and water in good supply? They cluck and mutter until I scatter two handfuls of dried mealworms and exhort them to lay their eggs. Lately they have been laying only two to three a day. I hope it improves.
I have said good bye to April now and welcomed May, a beautiful month. More surprises are in store. It is hard to remember just what we planted last year and what might come up in the next month. Hostas, ferns and wildflowers are just emerging. It is now time to plant the vegetable beds with seeds and starts. Garden chores never end, but they are so satisfying because there is such a sense of accomplishment. Weeding is contemplative, I find, and a good time to pray. And then there are the garden shops and nurseries to visit for inspiration.
April brings along so much surrounding energy, joy and growth, it’s contagious! The poets seem to capture it well. Here are two of my favorites:
Mary Oliver celebrates nature with joy.
When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
And another lovely poem by Jack Ridl.
Here in the Time Between
by Jack Ridl
Here in the time between snow
and the bud of the rhododendron,
we watch the robins, look into
the gray, and narrow our view
to the patches of wild grasses
coming green. The pile of ashes
in the fireplace, haphazard sticks
on the paths and gardens, leaves
tangled in the ivy and periwinkle
lie in wait against our will. This
drawing near of renewal, of stems
and blossoms, the hesitant return
of the anarchy of mud and seed
says not yet to the blood’s crawl.
When the deer along the stream
look back at us, we know again
we have left them. We pull
a blanket over us when we sleep.
As if living in a prayer, we say
amen to the late arrival of red,
the stun of green, the muted yellow
at the end of every twig. We will
lift up our eyes unto the trees hoping
to discover a gnarled nest within
the branches’ negative space. And
we will watch for a fox sparrow
rustling in the dead leaves underneath.
“Here in the Time Between” by Jack Ridl, from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron. © Wayne State University Press, 2013.
Thank you poets for bringing us your precious words, so carefully crafted. And thank you God for creating such a beautiful world for us to enjoy. We are blessed.