|There are several good reasons not to plant vegetables too early. One is that there’s plenty of time for the early season veggies like English peas and Irish potatoes, not to mention lettuce and radishes. Although there continue to be more warm days than truly cold ones, our soils are unlikely to be warm enough for true summer vegetables like okra and tomatoes. Finally there is the pain of replanting if it has to be done because little seedlings get stunted by a cold snap.
Reasons to plant early are both philosophical and practical. First, there are the potential bragging rights when yours are the first green beans or tomatoes on the block. The more pragmatic among us appreciate that early planting can deter some insect invasions, such as the moths responsible for corn earworms and squash vine borers.
If you are going to push the season (spring or any other) you will need to protect the plants at some point. Might be the surprise of one cold night, might be a regular practice to take advantage of the greenhouse effect that warms both air and soil around a plant or bed. The first approach works when conditions are mild overall, but to really push spring, you will need to think the other way around. Protect tender plants to enhance the environment around them, but keep it portable so you can adjust to the conditions. Classic cloches were first bell jars, hand blown glass beauties while modern ones may be cast in a variety of materials. The ubiquitous gallon jug is a favorite, its bottom sliced off to slip neatly over a small transplant. Keep the cap on at night and take it off on warm days. I like the Wall of Water devices, baffled plastic that provides an insulating cushion around the babies, and have wrapped tomato cages with plastic for a tall, cozy tower. I make cloches fashioned from pvc pipe for small groups of plants and top my raised beds with lightweight wire fencing that can support plastic in cool weather or window screen to exclude insects. When I visited a veteran recycler a few years back, I was amazed to see his row covers made of bed springs. They were a permanent installation hoisted 3 feet above the planting area and draped with plastic that worked like a moveable curtain along the side. Ugly, but very effective – use your imagination and let me know how it goes.
Unlike our hero Agent Gibbs, I do not keep a list, as there are very few hard and fast rules for gardening. Here is one of the rarities: if you put a cover of any kind over a plant, you must open it daily to allow air exchange and prevent heat build-up. So go ahead and get the garden going, push Spring if you dare, but don’t forget to cover up!
One more thing: With all the rain lately, I have despaired of planting potatoes in my very wet beds. The best way to grow potatoes is to start with a deep trench and fill it in as they grow. This year, the digging would do me in, so I’m recycling big old pots that grew tomatoes last year. Then ten gallon pots are full of old soil, so that gets dumped out and mixed half and half with leaf mold from the bottom of my 2 year old heap. I’ll add a cup of WormWise Vermicompost and a cup of Mighty Grow Organic Fertilizer to the mix for each pot to replenish used nutrients and kick off the growing process. Finally I’ll fill the pots one third the way up with the mix, plant potatoes, add a drip tube, and wait for the show to start. This task will take all day, as I have 20 pots to redo and a table full of sprouting potatoes!