by Jennifer Gooden
With last week’s freeze, I finally gave up on extending the growing season for my tomatoes, green beans, and other warm weather plants, at last giving in to winter. I still have a mix of cold-hardy greens out there, my chard, radicchio, mustard, and kale, but they take care of themselves. And so my 2008 gardening season is over. (Sniff, sniff.)
One thing I love about winter, though, is the time to plan next year’s garden. In my winter eyes, blinded by the cold and darkness, next season’s garden is always lush and abundant. There is endless variety—far more than my five raised beds could dream of supporting—and a complete absence of pesky mosquitoes, munching caterpillars, and digging squirrels.
It may not be realistic, but it gets me through the coldest months.
This winter, I have two gardening projects in mind. First, I am going to put together a calendar for next spring. I plan to find a calendar to hang in my garage, right next to my garden tools. There’s a reason for this calendar. Despite my fondness for winter garden dreaming, somehow February and early March escape me, and I rarely get my seeds started as early as I could. This year will be different. Organization to the rescue!
The most significant date in spring garden planning is the average date of last frost in spring. I found that the estimates from different sites varied by as much as a month. I settled it by looking up the NOAA historical records for our area. The actual historical dates of last frost did vary, by a lot. In the past 40 years, the date has swung from March 9 to April 15; going back a hundred years, you can add an extra month on either side of those dates. Thankfully, a linear average of the last spring freeze is clear: March 30.
March 30 it is.
Given the importance of that date to all spring planting, the rest of the calendar falls right into place. My early spring calendar, February through April, is below. Note that my plants have been selected for a small urban lot, so you’ll find an absence of large plants like corn and okra.
• February 15: plant onion sets
• February 22: sow peas and spinach; start leaf lettuce indoors
• March 1: sow radishes and turnips
• March 8: sow beets; plant potatoes; start peppers and tomatoes indoors
• March 15: transplant leaf lettuce seedlings outside
• March 22: sow carrots and chard
• March 30: average date of last spring frost
• April 12: sow green beans
• April 19: start cucumbers, summer squash, and melons indoors
• April 26: transplant peppers and tomatoes outside
My second garden project is to collect more reference books. I currently rely on information gleaned from the internet, seed catalogs, and Square Foot Gardening, but I would like to know more about season extension, food preservation, perennial vegetables, fruits, pest management…you name it. There is much I don’t know.
This is where I need help. If you have a great gardening reference book, one you couldn’t live without, please respond to this post and let us at Fresh Greens know.
Thanks, and happy winter garden dreaming!