Saturday, April 5, 2014

Welcome Rains

We had an unusually dry March, typically our wettest month. The rain that arrived this week to start the month of April has resulting in visible growth in the garden. Plenty of time remains for planting early crops, and some venturesome folks are planting cucumbers and summer squash. This is risky, not only because we could yet have a frost, but also because the soil remains cool and seeds may simply rot.

Cucurbits can be started indoors in peat pots, allowing them to be transplanted without root disturbance. Cucumbers, summer and winter squashes, melons and gourds can all be handled this way, giving you the earliest possible harvest. As with all such attempts to "beat" the season, you run the risk of losing the plants to a late cold snap, but you do have the opportunity to replant should that happen.

If you do start warm season transplants indoors, make sure to give them as much sun and/or artificial light as possible. Cucurbits, tomatoes and peppers all need strong light to develop properly. If you cannot provide good light for the seedlings, you will have better success with plants purchased at the garden center. Weak seedlings seldom recover their full potential, even after transplantation.

Plenty of time remains to plant lettuce, other greens, beets, radishes, carrots, potatoes, leeks and onions. Continue succession plantings of annual herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, but hold off on planting basil, which requires warmth. Parsley established in the garden now will continue to provide leaves for cutting until next winter, if not harvested too heavily. Try to have enough plants so you can gather a nice bunch with only one leaf taken per plant. If you use a lot of parsley, make room for a dozen. Flat-leaved Italian parsley grows best through summer heat.

Good Friday, April 18, is the traditional time to plant beans in the Tennessee Valley region. As a hedge against a cold snap, choose a brown-seeded bean for your early crop. These varieties are less likely to rot in cold soil than are white-seeded beans.

If you choose to push the season on warm-weather crops, it may be worth investing in floating row cover, available at most garden centers. This lightweight artificial fabric provides a few degrees of frost protection while allowing light and air to reach the plants. It is best to support the cover with metal or plastic hoops across the growing bed. Complete kits are widely available, or you can fabricate your own using PVC pipe.

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