Seize the Weather

Pitiful 2010 spring lettuce, spinach, and carrots

I know the expression is “seize the day,” but for those of us who work the land — farmers, gardeners, foresters, etc. — it’s about weather windows of opportunity. Here in the piedmont region of North Carolina, the window for planting a spring garden can be narrow to downright nonexistent.

The drought and heat of late summer 2009 made even weed-pulling impossible. The winter that followed featured prolonged record cold, which kept the ground frozen to depths I had never seen in my piedmont garden. Usually, I use winter months for garden clean-up — pulling out all the weeds and spent garden annuals, dressing the raised beds with compost, and adding wood chips to the paths  to bring them back up to their proper levels.

The weather window for a spring garden in 2010 opened late, and I had been unable to do anything to prepare ahead of time. I punted, which I seem to need to do with increasing frequency when it comes to a spring garden, throwing some seeds in the ground after it was already getting too hot.  The prolonged cool springs I remember fondly from a decade ago and earlier just don’t happen anymore. By April, it’s already too hot for lettuces, peas, and spinach to thrive.

But this year — and in mid-February — the weather experts are forecasting a prolonged (at least two weeks) period of above-normal temperatures. My fingers are itching in anticipation.

This weekend, Wonder Spouse and I will be in whirlwind mode as we tidy up the vegetable garden beds. Last fall, I managed to plant a cover crop of crimson clover on this year’s spring beds, which means they will be easy to plant. As soon as the new deer fence goes up mid-week, I’ll be direct-sowing peas, carrots, spinach, and some lettuces.

I say “some lettuces,” because I’ve found that direct-sowing bare lettuce seed gives me unpredictable results. Rain — and even my watering — tends to move the shallowly planted seeds around too much. I end up with big gaps in the row and piles of lettuce seedlings on top of each other that I must painstakingly dig up, gently separate, and replant. It’s time-consuming and not a lot of fun.

But the company I buy most of my veggie seeds from has made my life immensely easier by pelleting many of the tiny veggie seeds in a clay compound that passes organic-gardening requirements and creates little balls that are much easier to see and plant, and that stay where I put them even after watering/rain.

Now I direct-sow the pelleted seeds, but I’ll sow the non-pelleted lettuce seeds in flats in the greenhouse, where I can control germination and early growth conditions. When the seedlings have a few leaves, I’ll pop those puppies into the ground next to their pellet-sprouted comrades. It’s an extra step, but I find it’s worth the more consistent results I achieve.

Of course, there is a down side to the predicted imminent warm weather window: absolutely no rain in the forecast at all for the next two weeks at least. The severe drought continues unabated.

All I can do is plant early, mulch well, and pray continuously for rain.

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