By Barb Kozlowski

Well, Mother Nature sure seems to enjoy playing games with us. We had been easing into a delightful spring — rain to soften the soil, spring bulbs blooming, trees and shrubs beginning to leaf out, spring flowers about ready to burst. Then we get wacked with a hard freeze (it was 26 degrees at my house overnight this week).

But now we can look forward to a warming trend that will hopefully stay with us and maybe my Wisteria will bloom this year. Weather does create problems in our gardens. Consequently, we must be vigilant and pay attention to weather forecasts (although sometimes they seem like the weather persons are out in left field) and pursue our gardening chores accordingly.

Since the soil has softened somewhat from the rains we recently received, it’s the perfect time to weed our gardens. As you weed, be aware of any new shoots from your perennials poking through the soil. As you are aware, these new shoots are very tender and easily broken or damaged by too vigorous and aggressive weeding. Be gentle around the tender shoots when weeding.

This is a good time to prep your vegetable garden for the upcoming season. Add amendments such as compost to replace nutrients used in last year’s plantings. Rotate your crops, large or small to prevent total nutrient depletion. This will give you optimum return from your plants, and there is nothing like picking fresh veggies out of your own garden and serving them for your own personal pleasure. Mmm, I can taste them already!

One of the first veggie/fruit available from the garden is rhubarb. My grandmother grew it and I loved her rhubarb pie. Another one is asparagus. I planted asparagus roots last year but will have to wait another year to harvest. These aren’t difficult to grow and once planted, you need to amend to soil every fall and keep the area around the plants weed free.

I came across a sauce recipe in the “Ball Blue Book – Guide to Preserving for Rhubarb.” Here’s the recipe:
Victoria Sauce

2 quarts chopped rhubarb (12 stalks)
1 1/2 cups chopped raisins
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon each of allspice, cinnamon, ginger & Ball salt

Combine rhubarb, raisins, onion, sugar and vinegar in a large saucepot. Simmer until thick. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add spices and cook 5 minutes longer. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in boiling-water canner. Yields about 4 pints.

If you are not into canning or do not have the proper equipment, seal the jars and when cooled, store in the refrigerator for no more than one month or use immediately. This sauce will compliment a variety of meats, poultry, and some fish or seafood. It could also be used with ice cream or scones. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 18, the Master Gardeners will hold a Plant Swap at the Nannen Arboretum. All are welcome! Bring one plant, take one plant; bring 10, take home 10. Arrive by 9 a.m. Swap begins at 9:30 a.m. Rain or shine. Hope to see you there!

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