As I gaze out my window and plan my spring garden, I realize I am missing a vital tool from my collection. I need a crystal ball that foretells the weather. I could gaze into it and quickly determine when the soil temperatures would rise, the spring snows would stop and when the last frost would be in my garden.
I have searched every garden catalog I have seen for more than half a century; I have Googled ad nauseam, I have searched garden stores far and wide and I have found nothing. Yes, there are plenty of vendors that will send me a crystal gazing ball, but they are one-way communicators. I can gaze forever, but no worthwhile information would ever come back.
Since I lack a crystal ball, I will go back to the tools I have depended on for my lifetime of gardening. They are common sense, my hand and a soil thermometer.
Common sense tells me I need to learn how to separate vegetables into the proper categories. They are first separated into cool season and warm season vegetables. The cool season vegetables are further separated into hardy and semi-hardy types, while warm season types are divided into tender and very tender types.
What do these categories mean? Cool season vegetables germinate with soil temperatures of 40 degrees and grow best when air temperatures average between 65 and 75 degrees.
The second tool is my hand. I use this to check the moisture content of the soil. The only practical way to accelerate the gardening season is to warm the soil and the air around plants. The best way to do that is to get the water out of the soil.
It is much more difficult to raise the temperature of the water than it is to raise the soil temperature. Getting the excess water out lets it warm up earlier.
My hand also tells me if I can safely till or work the soil. Dig underneath the soil surface and grab a handful. Form it into a ball and toss it gently into the air. If it crumbles when you catch it, it is dry enough to till. If it remains in a tight, muddy ball, let it dry before working it.
Soggy soils remain wet and cold and are impossible to till until they dry. If you cannot till, you cannot plant.
Getting rid of the excess water requires improving the drainage. Sloping the soil helps improve the drainage. Other techniques include adding coarse organic matter, creating raised beds, grow boxes, containers or even replacing your soil with an artificial growing mix.
Look for the microclimates in your garden areas. All homes have microclimates surrounding them. The south side is warmer than the north; the west side is warmer than the east. Take advantage of the sun's natural heat to get your seeds to germinate and get your plants off to a good start.
Find areas that drain well, that catch the early spring sunshine and maybe get some reflected or stored heat from a home wall. It is also important to find an area that is protected from the wind.
The hardy vegetables can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring and when the soil does not freeze every night. An average planting date is starting about March 15.
This is where the soil thermometer comes in handy. Check the soil temperature at 9 a.m. each day to see what the 24-hour temperature is reading. You can plant early, but unless the soil temperature is warm enough, the seeds will not germinate.
Look for the following vegetables to start your garden growing. Broccoli is a good choice and Packman, Green Comet, Premium Crop Hybrid and Paragon are all good cultivars to consider growing in our area.
Cabbage is another popular, hardy vegetable. Consider Golden Acre 84, Stonehead Hybrid, Tastie Hybrid, Market Prize Hybrid or any others. For something less common, select Ruby Perfection Hybrid as a red cabbage or Savoy Ace as a Savoy type.
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