Friday, February 1, 2013
Spring's arrival in North Texas, is kind of like watching a squirrel trying to cross the road. Apparently, it is like this for the changing of seasons elsewhere too, because I stole that saying from a fellow gardener in Louisiana. But it's true. It's 78 and sunny one day, 30's for a low that night, then 43 for a high and cloudy with rain sprinkles the next day, and then just as fast, it's sunny and in the 60's again. My laundry is forever confused - and abundant!
What does this do to our plants? Well, they're a bit confused, too. Often all of this up and down of the temperature highs and lows, causes some plants to "bolt". This means, to go into their reproductive phase - which isn't always their food for us production phase. It means the plant will send up shoots with flowers that turn into seed pods, so it can reproduce itself for the next season. Even though, it may not have ever really gone through a full "food" cycle. Sigh - the drama of gardening.
So for this reason, I have learned not to put all my eggs in one basket. I tend to wait on planting many things that I see home gardeners rush to get in as early as the first warm sunny weekend arrives - in January. Onions, I've been taught, shouldn't go in until around Presidents' Day. Irish potatoes are fine going in the ground at, appropriately so, St. Patrick's Day. It's not that you can't plant them earlier, but when you're planting several thousand or hundreds of pounds, it's just not worth risking the crop - or the labor it would take to RE-plant if we have a hard freeze that kills or damages their growth.
So, sometimes we put in what we call a "risk crop". That is the little bit of things we plant to satisfy our spring fever, but not so much that if it doesn't make it to fruition, we won't have enough to cover at least our CSA needs. And home gardeners can do the same thing. Go ahead and try to be the first one on the block with tomatoes - but just keep a few of those transplants in the greenhouse until after Easter (usually our last bad freeze - no matter when it falls, seems we are safe after this moon phase.) Our last AVERAGE frost date here at the farm is around mid March. I round it off to holidays so I remember - St. Patrick's Day. That's not to say we won't have another one post the luck o' the green day. But much of what we have out has been hardened off, cool weather crops, or we're in the process of hardening off our warmer weather crops.
Tomatoes seem to have seasons within the season, too. I've found that my favorite heirlooms that are larger, like the cooler days of spring. Whereas the small, cherry-types, prefer the heat of summer - to a certain point anyway. So, I stagger my plantings accordingly. Also, I don't put them in the ground until the evenings are consistently above frost danger and the soil is warmed up a bit.
Our CSA winter season is about ready to kick off. I think it will be a few weeks early this year, thanks to our hoop house and some persistent re-seeding on my part. I did lose a few rounds of cole crops to a few of the deep freezes, but I've been re-planting things behind and they're doing OK now. As long as ol' man winter doesn't hit us with a surprise late attack, we'll be enjoying broccoli, Asian greens, herbs, root veggies and even a few tomatoes from our hoop housed fall crop. I must say it's nice to eat fresh tomatoes in January - that TASTE like home grown and not hot house. (there's a difference!)
So, while I wait for it to warm up a bit more so I can transplant some more cool season things outside, I get ready for the annual state farmer's conference (TOFGA.org) with my sweetheart, sign up new CSA members and dilly dally around in the hoop house, shedding the layers of warmth for awhile, and seeding yet more lettuces, greens, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and soon, squash, and melons and cucumbers. The hoop house is also my seed starting house - my greenhouse - and I love the smell of fresh growth and humidity inside there. It's like a summer day - when it's freezing outside.
Now go git yer hands in the dirt!
Marie Eat Your Food - Naturally!