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End of March Garden Report

Hope…and other things…spring eternal. I went out this morning to take the temperature in the garden beds and frankly, for all the warming up, the soil is no warmer than it was the last time I took it. And it’s actually very consistent around the beds in the garden also – not more than a couple tenths of a degree difference, which is a good thing.

But, a couple of things that I noticed when we were out there:
1) It’s been a very very dry spring – ordinarily, at this point, not only would the soil be colder, it would be a lot wetter as well; digging in it would have been a disaster – producing our own version of gumbo. When we were putting out the plastic, I wanted to pull up some of the old plants from last year. It looked dry enough so the DH pulled out a shovel and came up with – buried treasure!!!

A couple pounds of onions that got missed last fall – still hard, still good, not slimy. For those onions to have stayed that hard even into the spring means that it was pretty dry there before it got cold enough for the soil to freeze and it stayed dry around the onions so that even though it rained pretty heavily a couple of weeks ago, the soil was frozen solid around them and they did not get touched. We now have fresh onions. Yay! On the other hand, if we (and the local farmers) do not get some good rain, the pastures are going to play out by July and they won’t get more than one good haying. Not good. One of the reasons we got out of livestock was that within a ten year period we went from being able to keep the sheep and goats on pasture through the fall….to having to start feeding them hay by September. This…gets….expensive. Can we all say, “Climate Change”? When I was a kid, farmers in this area got THREE good cuttings of hay – timing of rain is imperative on this. Now, if they get two, they feel lucky and the second one will usually be about half the quality of the first.

2) During the fall and winter, our contractor ran his cement truck, dump trucks and back hoe over part of the garden – but the rhubarb STILL came up. Which only goes to show you that there are perennials in the veggie garden that cannot be killed no matter what you do. On the other hand, it also means that we will be having rhubarb that will be ready to eat by the end of April – major early start for rhubarb here. When we first planted that patch 25 years ago, we did not get rhubarb until May. See item (1), Climate Change…

But, before I forget, let’s talk a little bit about black plastic. We spread this out on the beds at this point for several reasons:

First: It helps warm up the soil. Right now, the soil is 42-43 degrees F. The sooner the soil gets warmer, the sooner we can get those members of the cabbage family which have been growing under the lights in the basement out of the basement (I really need the room for the chicks which I think will be arriving on Monday, courtesy of the US Postal Service) and into the ground. The way things are warming up (yes, I know, global warming is a hoax), if we don’t get them into the ground soon, the air and the soil will warm up so fast that they will bolt (send up a flower head and go to seed) before we can eat them.

Second, and in a way, just as important, warm soil makes weed seeds germinate, so we will have a chance to get the weeds while they are young and innocent – and yank them out.

Third, because we live in an iffy gardening situation, the only way we can get red tomatoes in enough time to actually EAT them, is to get the soil warm enough so that we can get plants in as early as we possibly can..even if we have to protect them with plastic or something else.

I know the Ag folks at Mississippi State have done work with different colored plastics, finding red plastic to be particularly effective for tomatoes, etc. , but…I can’t find red plastic for the life of me and I can always find thick tough plastic in black. Thin plastic is sort of worthless – the UV rays just break it down and we have had to replace it yearly. The thick stuff that we are using now is on its third year down, so it’s paid for itself already. Once we start putting things in, we will uncover the bed totally, fold up the plastic and put it away. We will probably be covering the little plants in plastic against the frosts for a while, but the ground by that time will be warm enough to generate a good bit of heat on its own. Commercial folks do this differently – they keep black plastic on the beds on a permanent basis and grow in what they call tunnels (these are hoops set into the soil which come in various heights) and which are covered with long sheets of heavy row cover (one trademark is Remay), which not only keeps the heat in but also keeps the bugs out and off the plants, so that they don’t have to use pesticides. When the time comes for flowering and pollination (which of course is much later in the year, and much warmer), they just roll up the sides of the tunnels so that the bees can get in. With any luck, by next weekend (the first weekend in April – woohoo!!), as long as we have some warm days this week, we will have warm enough soil to get some things in the ground.

This post is cross posted atOxdown Gazette.

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