Mar 09

Still Cold Outside

Spring is here, the crocuses, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths have broken ground, and there is only a little white stuff left. So it must be time to go outside, take in some fresh air and start planting right? Not so fast there green jeans type person it is too early to start digging outdoors. “What do you mean it is too early? The flower shows are in full swing, I bought my seeds and the box retailers are selling plants and bulbs.” Well that’s true. “And what about the hardware stores, the gardening tools, grass seed and fertilizer are all on the shelves?” Yeah, you are right about that also.

“So why can’t I put on my muck boots, rain gear, heatsulate gloves and go have fun?” Well there’s your problem, cabin fever has gotten the best of you, and given you an itch you can’t scratch. Be strong, there are two very good reasons you should not be tromping across the lawn and digging around the growing beds; too cold and too wet.

The majority of seed from plants we grow have an ideal germination temperature range of between 50O F and 70O F. That’s soil temperature, not air temperature. In the Middle Ages, people were taught to pick up their loincloth and sit on the ground. If their bare bottoms were uncomfortable then it was too early to plant. I am not suggesting you perform the same test today; just understand that if you sow seeds now they will rot in the ground before they can germinate.

Yes, there are some vegetables that are cold hardy; peas, radishes, spinach; and you can sow their seed earlier. I have had seasons where it has snowed after the seed were in the ground, but I did not sow those seeds until the soil was ready for cultivation; and that brings us to too wet.

Micro organisms and plant roots need oxygen to survive. They get it from the “soil air” located in the little pores between the soil particles. Air is constantly moving trough the soil, passing oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. Water restricts that movement.

Water is also a lubricant. It coats the soil particles. When you walk on wet soil, you compress the particle together, eliminating the pore space as the water is forced out. The same thing happens when you turn the wet soil that movement alone reduces the pore space and you want just the opposite.

The simple test is to pick up a handful of soil, squeeze it into a ball and poke it gently with the other hand. If you squeeze water out, or the ball holds together then the soil is too wet to cultivate. If it crumbles, then knock yourself out.

Until then, and we are only talking about a couple more weeks at most; consider starting some plants from seed indoors. Now is a good time to start the warm temperature crops like tomato, pepper and eggplant.

Even better, go out and buy that garden tool bag you always wanted. Gather your tools together and examine, clean and sharpen them. You will be amazed at how much more fun it is when your pruner actually cuts.

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