Another Cape Cod Spring Has Arrived

Finally. At long last the lingering, biting Cape Cod winter is breaking into Spring. The final crests of snow have melted away to reveal the stretch and yawn of the first crocuses, and the impatient shoots of eager daffodils. The Spring Peepers can be heard in the bogs and marshes, the Ospreys have returned to their platforms to nest, and the local gardeners have thumbs that are growing greener with each passing mild day. So many of us are itching to get outside and rake the leaves, amend our soils, and stock our greenhouses. Novice gardeners or those who are new to Cape have a lot of things to consider, especially with botanical projects that can take months of love and attention to detail before the gorgeous and often delicious payoff. Seasoned growers will advise utilizing native plants whenever possible, that are cold hardy and appreciative of our sandy soil and local pollinators, but even experienced gardeners will benefit from up-to-date information as standards and recommendations develop over time. C.L. Fornari is a gardening guru residing in Sandwich, co-host of Plantrama podcast, and author of several books about gardening on Cape Cod, and when asked to share her expertise she was happy to oblige.

When Fornari moved to the Cape in 1993 she was unable to find a book about Cape Cod gardening, so she wrote it herself. She has since written several books about gardening on Cape Cod, with her book Sand and Soil being the most recent. She goes on to explain how local gardening standards have changed significantly in the past 30ish years since her first Cape gardening book was published in the mid-90s. “The plants that we thought were great at that time have proven to be not so desirable. Some plants that were commonly sold at that time are now “banned in Boston” (and the rest of the Commonwealth) because they are invasive. And there are new pests, diseases, and plants that people should know about. It was for those reasons and more that I wrote a new book about Cape Cod gardening and didn’t just update the original one.”

Leave the Leaves?

While we may be ready to banish the leaf piles from our flowerbeds, Mother Nature has other ideas. The leaves that have been insulating our lawns and Spring bulbs all winter have also been providing shelter for overwintering bees and butterflies, and although the sight of tulip leaves peeking through the crisp remnants of fall is enough to have us reaching for the rake, we of course also want to be mindful of the sleepy pollinators who are about to once again embark upon the priceless work that our very existence depends on. What are we to do?

Fornari answers, “This question is a great example of how standard landscaping practices have changed in the past ten years, and how we’re all called to be more flexible in our thinking.  Back in the day, we did a “fall clean up” and a “spring cleanup.” All the leaves were removed in those clean-sweeps, and usually (horrors!) removed from the property. Now we know better about the value of leaves for plants and pollinators. But it’s not either or.” She tells us that although you’ll see posts talking about waiting to clean up a garden until temperatures are above 50, there is no hard science behind that number. “Homeowners need to know that it’s not all or nothing. You can remove some leaves anytime, take others out in May, and leave some in place as Nature intended.”

When it comes to amending soil, Fornari contends that we should never assume that our soil needs improving, pointing out the thousands of mosses, trees, and all the plants in between that thrive comfortably without help. She recommends grouping plants that we know have soil requirements, (using Hydrangeas as an example), in areas where we can amend the soil from the top-down, adding “Soil ‘improvement’ practices have changed in the past twenty years. We know now that tilling, digging, and replacing native soils should be avoided whenever possible.”

Gardens this time of year tend to be limited to early perennials including favorites like basket-of-gold and bleeding heart, so Fornari suggests adding pansies to your space for a burst of color and a touch of cheer.

The Green Spot Opens for Business

Pansies are what Jim Behnke, owner of The Green Spot Garden Center, says are his biggest seller this time of year. The 4 decades-old family-owned garden center opened for the season on March 21st and has a nursery and 2 greenhouses on-site in addition to a full line of annuals, perennials, roses, shrubs, and trees. Jim looks forward to seeing early patrons popping in for seed starters and specialty soils, and to check out the annual specials of things like Miracle Grow and Hollytone. They have onions and garlic in stock, followed soon by cold-loving plants like lettuce and broccoli, and a few weeks after that, potato seedlings. For those of us rushing to get started on our veggie gardens, Jim warns not so fast. “The biggest thing you have to pay attention to is weather,” he cautions, mentioning that it won’t be time to get many crops in the ground until up to May and June in some cases. “Sometimes you gotta pinch yourself and remember to be patient.”

The Green Spot is located at 1085 Route 28 in South Yarmouth and is open seven days a week from 9-5.

This blog is funded through the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

(Britt Skinner is a freelance writer.)

Fresh produce and homemade goods at the Bass River Farmer’s Market

What’s the hottest spot in town for gourmet seafood, healthy vegetables, and fresh-baked artisan breads?

It’s the Bass River Farmer’s Market. And yes, it’s more than just a place to grab a few ears of sweet corn for dinner — although that’s never a bad idea.

The market now hosts 22 vendors on Thursday and Saturday mornings, peddling just-picked produce, fresh-caught seafood, gourmet pastries, olive oils, pickles, jams, relishes, scented candles, pet treats, jewelry and too many hand-crafted goods to list in a single blog post.

The Bass River Farmers Market has is a great spot to browse for handmade gifts or to pick up fresh, locally produced foods

Longtime market manager Carlene Veara says the myriad crafters make the market ideal for visitors to hunt for that perfect Cape Cod gift. But, she said, the biggest attractions are still the food vendors.

Lane Gardens of Dighton and Oakdale Farms of Rehoboth truck in their fresh-picked seasonal vegetables. Fireking Baking Co. of Braintree draws early birds looking for the first choice of artisan breads. And fresh seafood vendor Denice Lapierre brings succulent sea scallops caught on her partner Chris Merl’s day boat, the Isabel and Lilee.

The seafood has piqued interest and made the Bass River Farmers Market a locavore’s destination — where finnicky foodies can gather locally sourced ingredients to create the perfect gourmet meal.

Lapierre’s specialty is day boat sea scallops, harvested on short trips and brought to shore in small loads. Day boat scallops also called “dry scallops” aren’t treated with additives that preserve the seafood and help the meat retain water. Because they have less water content, the scallops don’t ooze liquid when they sizzle in a frying pan. And that means they can be sauteed to perfection — delivering the crisp, caramelized coating that food-lovers expect from local scallops.

Denice Lapierre’s specialty is fresh “dry scallops” from her partner Chris Merl’s boat, the fishing vessel Isabel and Lilee, named after their two daughters.

She sells her dayboat sea scallops for $18 a pound — a consistent price that ranges slightly below the going rate at most seafood markets. (For comparison, the Fishermen’s Market, a popular seafood outlet on New Bedford’s busy waterfront, was selling day scallops for $19.99 a pound last week.)

In addition to the fresh sea scallops, Lapierre sells haddock and other finfish, depending on what’s available from her supplier, Red’s Best. Sometimes she has black sea bass, sometimes striped bass or even the largely undiscovered treat of local skate wings. All of the fish she sells are wild-caught, except for the salmon, which Lapierre said is farmed in Maine and was added to her inventory after repeated customer requests.

Lane Gardens owner Laura Smith says the presence of Lapierre’s seafood has boosted overall turnout at the market, which makes everyone happy.

Smith brings fresh-picked vegetables, berries, fruits and herbs to the Bass River market, with specific items varying by the season. During the mid-August bonanza, her wares include just about everything that can be grown in New England — sweetcorn, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, scallions, tomatoes, beets, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, salad fixings, and summer squashes, along with basil and other herbs. Lane Gardens also has layer hens for farm-fresh eggs, which she said sell out quickly at the market. The farm also has a certified kitchen for pickles and other processed farm foods. If you don’t see what you want, just ask, and Smith will bring it next time, she said.

Laura Smith of Lane Gardens in Dighton sells fresh vegetables, berries, fruits and eggs at the Bass River Farmers Market in South Yarmouth.

Smith also accepts SNAP benefits and is registered with HIP, the state’s Healthy Incentives Program, which offers instant rebates to customers who use their EBT cards to purchase healthy, farm-fresh goods. If a customer has $100 on an Electronic Benefits Transfer card and buys $30 worth of vegetables, Smith accepts payment and immediately refunds the full amount to the customer’s EBT card via HIP. So, in effect, the customer is getting high-quality, fresh local food for free.

The popular program helps low-income families eat healthier while supporting local farmers — which is always a worthy endeavor.

“Eating locally grown food lets us support our farmers and helps to grow our local economy in Southeastern Massachusetts, the Cape and the Islands,” said Karen Schwalbe, executive director of the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership.

Strong demand at our local markets has allowed farmer’s markets to diversify their products to include locally caught fish and shellfish, along with value-added products like salts and seasonings, jams and jellies, and baked goods, she said.

If want to support local food producers by shopping at Bass River Farmers Market, here are some things to know:

  • The market is located at 311 Old Main St. in South Yarmouth, and it’s open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., rain or shine. (Look for the signs placed around town by Veara, who rises with the roosters to let everyone know it’s market day.)
  • The season begins in mid-June and ends this year on Sept. 11.
  • Parking is available at the market or nearby lots.

Photo credit: All photos by Lilee Merl

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.