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Week 8: Spring is here..for a minute

Updated: May 22

Blowing apart misconceptions in the gardening world! Should we be beholden to dates and enchanted by zones?



But first let's ask...


What Should I Plant This Week?


Indoors:

Most of the plants we started inside have moved into the hardening off stage, but there are a few cucurbits still needing to get bigger and we are starting things like nasturtium and sunflowers indoors to give them a head start against the bunnies who will bite their little heads off as soon as they come up.

It is said there are no gardening mistakes, only experiments. But if we are to experiment then we must document. Keeping a log of your gardening activities can be very useful. It’s hard to remember year to year all the different varieties you planted and where you planted what.

Here is what we suggest you keep track of minimally:

  • Variety

  • When you seeded and/or transplanted

  • Map where things were planted, to allow for rotations

  • How did it do in your garden?

  • What might have affected your crop or what conditions were prevalent?

  • Weather

  • Pests/diseases

  • Did you like eating this variety?

  • Etc.


Outdoors:

It has been an exceptionally cool spring so far. Many perennial plants are 7-10 days slower than normal at our farm. So, we are taking our cues from nature and delaying planting some things out. But this can change fast and plants can make up for lost time such that we may hardly notice in a few weeks.

Dates

Many people like to hang on to dates for planting their warm-weather plants (i.e. tomatoes). In fact, we publish a calendar each week with dates on it for each crop. We realized that this year especially, those dates just haven’t been realistic. The problem with dates is that nature doesn’t recognize them. If we plant based on a date and the weather just isn’t there yet, we risk losing the crop. It’s better to take our cues from nature and recognize that natural plants are wired into the weather to safely progress with new growth. This is called phenology – the study of plants and animals through the seasonal changes. We can use phenology to plant by nature’s signs. There is an old saying that “you should plant the corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear”. There is some room for interpretation but basically the weather isn’t warm enough to plant corn until the oaks have a bit of leaf out. Here are few more:

· when the crocus are blooming you should plant radishes.

· when the forsythia is in bloom it is safe to plant peas.


For more planting by signs of nature check out this article.

Sometimes using soil temps can be a very accurate way of determining planting time. For instance, waiting until the soil temperature is 60 degrees before planting beans and dahlias. Here are some guidelines for planting vegetables using soil temps:


· 40° F or warmer: Lettuce, kale, peas, spinach.

· 50° F or warmer: Onions, leeks, turnips, Swiss chard.

· 60° F or warmer: Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, beans, beets.

· 70° F or warmer: Tomatoes, squash, corn, cucumbers, melons, peppers.

Use a soil temperature thermometer to take this measurement.


Zones

Gardeners look to the USDA plant hardiness zone maps to determine which plants are most likely to thrive in a particular area in the US. These maps show the average extreme minimum temperature of a location. Cape Cod, at this point in time, falls into Zone 7 which has a minimum winter temp of 0 – 10 degrees. It is important to understand that this does not mean that all of Zone 7 across the country has the same weather. It’s just that everywhere in Zone 7 has the same minimum winter temperature.


Zone 7 extends all the way down into Georgia where they are weeks ahead of us in terms of planting out their tomatoes and all the other vegetables. The ocean water has a huge effect on Cape Cod in the spring, keeping us cooler even than Plymouth, who is actually in a cooler USDA zone (Zone 6) but can plant tomatoes earlier than us because they are not surrounded by water. So remember your zone isn’t a measure of your weather.

Row Covers


When we do our best but we get that late frost warning, don’t despair! You can always protect your tender plants with covers. An old blanket or towel draped over your plants can keep the dew off and keep the plant 10 degrees warmer than the air temperature. Just be sure to cover them before the sun goes down and the dew starts to form.

You can purchase rolls of fabric designed to extend the growing season, called floating row cover. This material can be used as a cover so you can set plants out a few weeks early and also keep the frost off them to extend the season in the fall too.

So, keep a close eye on the weather forecast for these few weeks after planting tomatoes, etc.

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Veggie Spotlight: Tomatoes!



Tomatoes are from the Mediterranean region so they love the sun. Give them your sunniest place in the garden. Also, give them plenty of room. You want lots of air circulation around your tomatoes because they are susceptible to bights that thrive in crowed, humid conditions.


Be sure to plant them in very fertile soil, enhanced with compost and composted manures. Tomatoes are heavy feeders.

How to plant:

First, and so important, harden them off! Check out our previous description of hardening off if you’ve forgotten.

Second, plant as much of the stem in the ground as possible leaving only the top 3-4 inches of stem and leaves. It seems counterintuitive but roots will form all along that stem because tomatoes are actually vines. The more roots you have to feed your plant the better. Here is a video to show you how this works. Don’t be shy in the long run you will have a stronger more robust plant because you have more roots.

How to prepare for your plants as they grow:

There are two types of tomatoes vines- determinate and indeterminate. This refers to the growth habit of the tomato plants and essentially means bush or vining, respectively.

Determinate varieties grow to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short period of time. Once they produce their first flush of fruit, the plant will lose its vigor and will have little new fruit. This is great when you are big into making tomato sauce, etc.and want them all to come at once. The plants are more compact and shorter. They will be laden with fruit and will need good staking or a hefty cage to keep the branches from breaking under the weight.

Indeterminate varieties will continue to set fruit and extend in height all season only stopped by a frost. They will continue to grow tall and will need tall support to grow up or around. They can reach 8- 10 feet tall. They will give you a more slow and steady supply of tomatoes, ripening a bit later than the determinates.

Think about how you will stake or support the plants now so you will be ready in a few weeks when that is needed.

Pinching suckers is a practice many ignore but can keep the plants focused on their main job – producing tomatoes for you! At the axil of each branch on your plant is a new growth that if left unchecked will create a very leafy plant. Letting the sucker grow signals to the plant that is time to produce vegetation. By pinching it back you direct the plant to focus on reproduction and you will get more flowers and thus fruit. Here is a concise video that demonstrates the process.

It is primarily the indeterminate tomatoes that need to have the sucker pinched.



We would love to hear from you. How are we doing? Are you getting anything out of the blog? Leave a comment and we will get it.




To Recap Today's Essential Concepts:

  1. Lest we forget...keep a journal or log

  2. There are many ways to determine planting times: natures cues, soil temps

  3. Tomatoes are vines, so plant as much stem in the ground as possible for a stronger plant.

Coming Up:


Looking for the first insect pest we might see in the garden and mulching to reduce weeds and keep the soil moist- the one thing you will most be glad you did come August.

Garden Extras:


We stumbled upon a gardening series from Ireland that we thought might be worth your time. Though their dates are a bit off from ours, we thought their basic concepts seemed relevant and sound. They have a segment on container gardening each show which might be helpful for some. Check it out and see what you think.

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