Memorial Day; asparagus; and cicadas

Memorial Day marks the “official” start of the summer season for us, but this past May has already featured some summer like weather, as well as some decidedly cool, late winter like, weather as well.

The hot days make us want to get all our gardens planted asap, but then we get a cold snap, which threatens the crops we just planted. I am still relying on my garden soil thermometer to tell me when to transplant and my soil is still below 60 degrees.

Despite the fact that my transplants are seriously overgrown in their cell packs, I will wait till June (65 degree soil) to put my tomatoes, cucumbers and squash plants in the ground.

Of course those of you in the Hudson Valley river towns and Ulster County have been “safe” to transplant for a couple of weeks now.

After a slow and late start this year, I am suddenly overrun with asparagus, which means it is time to make soup and freeze it.

Raw, fresh asparagus does not really freeze very well, by itself, but if you make soup, you can enjoy it later this fall or winter even. Just don’t add the heavy cream, or half and half until you thaw it out to finish it.

Rhubarb season is about over now, but you can still harvest the youngest stalks, chop them up and freeze until the strawberries arrive to make strawberry/rhubarb pie. Remember that only the stalks are edible, the leaves are quite toxic.

Years ago, I gave up trying to grow spinach, lettuce or Bok Choy, because they all seemed to bolt as soon as we got a few hot days.

If yours are bolting (sending up a flower stalk) you can let them go to seed and they may provide you with a fall crop in the same place. Lettuce seed does not germinate well when the soil is 80 degrees, but putting a flat board over the seeded area in mid-July, will keep the soil cool until the seeds sprout.

I am awaiting the emergence of the next brood of “17 year” cicadas to show up soon in the valley. The news has featured several stories about them recently. They crawl out of the ground when the soil temperature, at eight inches deep, is over 64 degrees.

These fascinating insects have spent the past 17 years feeding on the sap of tree roots and they provide a bonanza of free food for all sorts of critters, from chipmunks to squirrels, birds and even humans if you are brave enough to eat them. I will pass on them myself, but I have read that they are highly nutritious and actually tasty. Several “horror” films have used the appearance of these creatures as models for characters such as “Alien” or even “Predator.”

Once these rather large, red eyed insects emerge, shed their pupal skins and mate, they will lay eggs on the tips of many species of trees, with oak being the favorite host. After the eggs are laid, the female will girdle the tip of the twig, perhaps three or four inches down, causing it to turn brown, die and fall to the ground in a few weeks.

The larvae will hatch and immediately tunnel into the ground, find a tree root and start feeding for the next 17 years.

It just dawned on me that this is likely the last time I will get to see this phenomena.

As frightening as it seems to see all these brown tipped trees, the fact is that they really only do cosmetic damage to the tree.

I also wonder just how large and widespread this event will be? In the past 17 years, the most common soil insecticide for grubs, hemlock wooly adelgid and Emerald Ash borer is a chemical called imidacloprid that I suspect will also kill cicada larvae. It will be interesting to see if this product reduces the “hatch.”

To me, the biggest concern from the cicadas is the deafening sound they make when they are all “humming” at once.

The noise level has been recorded at over 100 decibels, which is like a motorcycle starting or a low flying plane, except that the noise lasts for hours at a time.

I would appreciate it if those of you in the Kingston area get back to me with the status of cicadas in your immediate area. My email is rlb14@cornell.edu.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

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