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Get growing: Apple blossom time

Mother’s Day weekend has long been apple blossom time in the Pioneer Valley. This year is no exception.

Earlier this week, flower buds that were almost indistinguishable from leaf buds a mere week ago, popped open in great profusion. It is a marvelous year for apple blossoms. Commercial growers and home gardeners are very happy.

Many years ago my husband carefully sited a full-size ‘Red Delicious’ apple tree so that we couldn’t see a power line tower from our screened porch. His foresight is much appreciated. Five years ago he died during apple blossom season and we picked bucket loads of flowers to decorate the church for his funeral. The apple tree tends to flower especially well in alternate years but this year it is gorgeous in an off year.

However, the showers and rains predicted for later in the week may spell trouble. Apples need insect pollinators to make fruit and bees and other pollinators can’t fly in rain or cold weather. It’s warm enough but if the rain is heavy there won’t be sufficient pollination. So, let’s hope the sun shines at least part of this weekend.

There is a great buzz these days about the importance of native pollinators — native bees and other insects — rather than the long reliance on honeybees, which are an imported species. For decades commercial bee owners have trucked hives from one end of the country to the other to provide honeybees for pollination in orchards and on farms for other crops. In the monthly Atkins Farms newsletter this week, owner Pauline Lannon revealed that in recent years Atkins has relied solely on native pollinators instead of hiring dozens of honeybee hives. The new technique has been working well, she wrote.

Let’s just hope that the weather cooperates so that all the pollinators, honeybees, native mason bees, moths, butterflies and others can do their all-important work.

LYME DISEASE: According to UMass Extension, ticks have been in abundance early in the season this year. So, gardeners should take precautions for themselves and their pets. Wear long shirts and pants when gardening or hiking, keep your ankles covered with socks, use insect repellent when possible and wash yourself and your gardening clothes when finished for the day. Check hairlines, ankles and wrists, waistlines and any other skin area where tiny or large ticks might hide. Lyme disease, spread by tiny deer ticks, is a truly nasty medical problem. Don’t forget to use tick deterrent on your pets. They don’t need to get sick, either.

If you find a live tick on yourself or your clothing and wish to determine whether it carries the Lyme disease pathogen, check the UMass Extension website area: umass.edu/tick for directions on submitting the insect for analysis.

There will be a free seminar on Lyme disease Monday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at Forbes Library in Northampton. Dr. Charles Brummer is organizing a panel of experts.

WILD FLOWERS: Next week’s Valley Gardens column will feature an interview with the horticulturist at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales in which we talked about wild flowers. The sanctuary holds a garden open house on May 17, 5-7 p.m., This is peak bloom time for woodland wildflowers. For more information about the sanctuary and this special event, check norcrossws.org. Meanwhile, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, an Audubon site, is offering wildflower walks on Wednesday mornings at various venues. Connie Parks and Janet Bissell lead the walks. Bring a Newcomb’s wildflower guide and a hand lens if you own them. Fee is $8; members, $5. The walks will be held at Graves Farm on May 15 and High Ledges on May 22. For more information call 584-3009.

HEIRLOOM TOMATOES: Margaret Larson, of Southampton, a volunteer with the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, will give a lecture on heirloom tomatoes tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke. A $5 donation to help restore the museum gardens is requested. For more information visit wistariahurst.org.

BIG PLANT SALE WEEKEND: This Saturday and Sunday the Valley will come alive with plant sales to benefit area schools and nonprofits.

e_SBlt Northampton: The SOS (Support Our Schools) sale in Northampton is tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, 80 Locust St. For sale will be perennials, shrubs, trees, herbs, annuals, vegetable starts. There will also be a garden market with artisan vendors and a raffle for a handmade quilt and garden furniture made by Smith Vocational students. Proceeds will be used to buy books for Northampton schools. Last year, the sale raised $10,000. Donate plants 4-7 p.m. tonight. Help out volunteers: label them accurately.

e_SBlt Williamsburg: Tomorrow from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs and hanging baskets for Mother’s Day will be on sale. Soil testing and garden advice will be provided by master gardeners from 9 a.m. to noon. A $1 donation per soil sample is requested. Proceeds of the sale benefit Williamsburg schools and Hampshire Regional High School.

e_SBlt Pelham: Friends of the Pelham Library will hold a plant sale from 9 a.m. to noon. There will also be a raffle for garden-related items. Note that the sale is at the library this year at the corner of Amherst and South Valley roads instead of at the highway department. Plant donations are being accepted today, 1-4:30 p.m., at the library.

e_SBlt Belchertown: Stone House on Route 202 will host a plant sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in conjunction with the annual celebration at the museum.

Other events: May 18: Amherst, Southampton, and Sunderland. May 25: Leverett Library and Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst. June 1: Hadley.

HOMESTEADING WORKSHOP: Pru Smith and Sharon Gensler will offer a homesteading workshop on growing fruits on May 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Wild Browse Farm in Wendell. Fee is $25 and class size is limited. To register call 978-544-6347 or email wildbrowsesustainability@gmail.com.

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