The Walls of Water are filled, the modified and jerry-rigged greenhouses are up, the black plastic is laid down on top of the soil.
These are all ways that we gardeners try to get a jump on the vegetable-growing season, tempting Mother Nature with a sheet of plastic 6 millimeters thick.
Awfully brave, aren’t we?
All in the name of red-ripe tomatoes, an extra picking of green beans or a couple of extra zucchini, which, of course, is the dream of everybody in the neighborhood.
Now, if we were all farmers, the extra weeks could mean a premium price at the farmers market. After weeks of the first cold-season crops to be harvested – spinach, lettuce, asparagus – what we wouldn’t give for one fresh, local tomato or pepper, or ear of corn? I know when I see the first chile pepper at Schwebach’s Cedar Hill Farm’s stand, I don’t even care about the price. It’s a pepper, and it’s July.
Those peppers are mine.
But I always wonder why gardeners try to tempt fate in May by planting warm-season crops. Please don’t tell me you tempt fate in April. Please. By warm-season, we are referring to plants that will not tolerate temperatures below freezing: tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, cucumbers and their close relatives. These plants do an awful job getting the water out of their cells before they freeze. Once that water turns to ice and expands, it bursts the plant’s cell walls – and your green bean leaf turns brown overnight.
The cold-season crops – those that we can plant or seed in April and May – are much more efficient at pushing water out of their cells and into the intercellular spaces where ice crystals do much less damage.
Now, of course, I know the reason why all of you guilty ones do this. It’s called winter and spring.
You’ve had enough of the cold, and perhaps these tomato plants that look so gorgeous on the nursery shelf will look just as pretty in your garden. But what I have found is that springtime in our corner of the world is extremely variable, perhaps much more so than the fall months when the first frost comes. Last year, it dipped to 25 degrees on May 28; the year before that it was 30 degrees on June 12. The list goes on and on.
So what I ask, with all sincerity, is that you exhibit patience with your plants. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go ahead and start shopping for warm-season transplants. Feel free. Just hold off on planting them into your garden. I tell my students to go ahead and purchase your plants (this weekend would be a great time; see the Get Growing column on Page 1B), but harden them off for at least a week. Place them outside where they will receive direct sunlight a few hours every day. Gradually lengthen the amount of time you leave them outside each day. If there is a freeze, don’t leave them outside at night.
This process will get the plants ready and will start your garden growing that much sooner. When it is time to put plants in the ground, check the 10-day weather forecast. If it’s promising, then go for it. Just make sure you have the ability to protect the tender plants if a freeze could occur.
And save the bravery for fall, when you start tempting fate with those darn green tomatoes.
email@example.com or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.