Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Spring or Not to Spring?

Well, the groundhog predicted an early spring - and so far, he seems to be on target. But, the veteran farmers I listen to, warn about the late Easter and the nearly 100% track record for there being a late season hard and killing frost - right before Good Friday. So do we plant and take the chance or do we wait and play it safe?

This farmer is playing it safe. I have the ground ready to go and the plants are in the greenhouse, happy and warm as bug in a rug. Or, as it has been, a bug in the row cover where it managed to survive all winter....I swear.

We've got onions, potatoes, Swiss Chard, beets, carrots, lettuces, cabbage and a few other cool season things in the ground. But the warm season plants, like tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and beans - those are not anywhere near the unprotected soil - yet.

I admit, it is getting hard to wait - we've had so much nice weather lately - but then just last night, we dropped down to freezing only 30 miles north of here. All it takes is a brief freeze and the warm season veggies can crater. As it is, they prefer consistent soil temps of no cooler than 50 degrees - and ours has barely been 50 in the mornings. So, I wait....chomping on the bit as I read of home gardeners plopping their plants in the ground. In the city, with plenty of buildings, concrete and swimming pools around, most will be fine with the mini-microclimates created. Out in the open fields here - not so much. The winds have whipped through here unchecked all winter and it is the drying cold air that kills your plants, or at least damages them, and can make them susceptible to disease and pests. We don't need to fight any uphill battles if we don't have to. Organic farming is challenging enough without daring mother nature. But I admit, I sometimes question myself. What if....

But then, a fellow farmer of mine posted his results from last year and made me feel validated in my decision to wait. He had 2 crops going on at the same time - one he held back in the greenhouse, and the other he went ahead and put in the ground. He's a bit further south than here, but nonetheless, he didn't have any freezes so the early crop was fine and when it was "safe" to do so according to the calender, he planted the rest of his crop. His findings were: "Planted tomatoes in short and large tunnels last year. Kept some tomatoes from the same batch in the greenhouse. It snowed on the tunnels, tomatoes were saved. Greenhouse starts planted out several weeks later. Might have been a day or two difference at most in date of first ripe tomato between earliest and latest planted...." And lest we forget the first day of spring last year, greeted us with a dusting of fresh snow!

So, I rest assured that I'm not really losing any time. My root systems will be mature, the plants will be hardened off - it does get pretty cool in the unheated greenhouse, just never drops below freezing on the tomato bed, and they'll all be ready to grow once I get them in the ground. Plus, it gives my soil longer to mellow and in sandy soil, that is important. Fertilizer and compost seem to disappear in the soil each season and it has to be replaced. It takes a few weeks for the soil microbes to chew down the bigger pieces and make it usable by the roots of the plants that will be planted soon.

So, in the meantime, I'm still seeding plants - I am not sure where we're going to put all of these tomato plants, but if they all grow, we're going to be drowning in tomatoes this summer - and turning compost, mulching and irrigating what is in the ground and trying to keep up with weeds.

Tomorrow I will take one of our roosters on tour to the local library's "Growing Green" day, Thursday I'm speaking again to a group of homeowners on organic gardens at the Audelia Road Library in Dallas, and I'm teaching a basic organic veggie gardening class this weekend here at the farm. Whew! - and it's not even close to Earth Day yet!

Gardening is a passion of mine though - and I love to engage others in the fun. If I can teach someone to grow some of their own food, I've done my job. I think it is important that everyone know basic gardening skills - and grow as much as they have time to grow. There is no better food on the planet for you than freshly harvested, organically grown veggies that you grow yourself in soil that you tend sustainably. And wait till you see the look on your kids' faces, or your partners, or your own for that matter - when you pull out a purple carrot, pick a white tomato, or taste a freshly harvested potato. :) There's nothing like it - not at your grocery store anyway.....


Eat Your Food - Naturally!