Come on; let’s get going…it’s time to get those broccoli, cabbage, peas and greens of all sorts in the ground! Usually mid-February is still on the early edge of cool season planting, but, like last year, it now seems more like March than our historical February weather. There’s always a chance of things going badly, but I’m going to give it a try.
If your soil is still a bit too wet after the recent rains you can try making plantings in raised hills in your garden patch. These can be helpful even if you already have raised beds. This will help with drainage so you young roots don’t rot. After your cool season plants are harvested you can easily rake the hills out to their normal level for summer plantings.
I went to a historical climate tracking website and did a little comparison of average Dunwoody temperatures for the period Jan. 1- Feb. 15 in different years. From 1961-1990 our average daily temperature for this period was 38.9 degrees. By 2000 it had gone up to 42.5 degrees for the same weeks. This year the daily average for this period has been 45.8 degrees. That’s a whopping 6.9 degrees higher than the average between 1961-1990. That’s a 17.7 percent increase over our recent historical average.
As this shows, we are well above historical averages as we move into the 21st century. I’ll spare you my rants about global climate change. Some of you will already generally agree with me on that topic and others never will. I’d hate to waste good space in this column by preaching to my choir or trying to convert the unconvertible. The old adage used to be that you should never discuss sex or politics in polite company. It seems we now have to add global warming and a few other topics to that sage advice.
All of this means that you can probably get away with starting your flowers and veggies a bit earlier than the gardening books and ancient lore would dictate. Having said all that, let me remind you that it was as recently as April, 2007, that we had snow and freezing weather.
Typically you can use old bed sheets or newspapers to cover plants in case of a predicted frost. I have used a garden gimmick called “Wall O’ Water” at times in the past. This is a double-walled plastic cylinder that you fill with water and place around your young plants. The water holds enough heat from the daytime to keep the plants from croaking due to frosty temperatures at night.
I have also used in-ground heating cables to keep the soil warm during cold periods in early springs. I usually get out the heat cables when I have given in to my inner demon that is ‘jonesing’ for early tomatoes. My experience is that the cables won’t speed up the growing process all that much, at least not enough to get really early tomatoes. But it does allow me the illusion that I am doing all that I can short of moving to Florida to get homegrown tomatoes by late May or early June. When it comes to my homegrown tomatoes, I easily obey the old adage, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
If you are looking for seeds to start indoors or for early planting, may I suggest a couple of reliable sources for seeds for plants that will do well in the South. Park Seeds in South Carolina and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia offer a wide range of seeds including organic and heritage seeds. They have flowers as well as veggie seeds and a bunch of other gardening items. The catalogue from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange itself is worth reading as a reference for plant information and good growing practices.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t pass on this bit of garden lore told to me by my friend Betty Dworschak: The way the farmers on the plains of Saskatchewan would tell when it’s safe to plant is to go out and sit on their dirt fields with their bare bums. If they didn’t yelp at the sudden cold jolt to their tender parts they could go ahead and plant. Now, get out your in your gardens and check the soil.
Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.