Friday, March 23, 2012

Uneasy Spring

Dogwoods, azaleas, all sorts of little ephemeral spring things that grow on the forest floor - it's all in bloom, or even past bloom. The ground is warm enough that morels have been popping up, and at my friend's garden/farm out on Dallas Highway, the Colorado potato beetles are already out. Last year, the potato beetles didn't make their appearance until late April.

All of the unusually early activity is enough to make any gardener or farmer uneasy. If this is the end of winter, what will summer look like? And of course, there is the problem that a reversion to normal weather, with the chance of temperatures back into the mid- to low 20s, could damage the fruit that's beginning to form on trees and bushes in yards and orchards all around. Losing the early crop of figs wouldn't be too horrible - our fig tree sets another crop later in the spring - but most of the other fruits in my yard bloom and set one crop of fruit each year (Heritage raspberries, an exception, make an additional small crop in late summer). I'd rather not lose the blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries, and plums.

As the weather continues to be strange, I find myself making contingency plans for a "bad" gardening year. Grandpa Bill, gardening last year in Oklahoma's 60-plus days of above-100-degree weather, didn't really get a tomato crop. He got peppers, but he had rigged a shade over each plant to help protect the fruits from sun-scald. I am going to keep that strategy in mind - I have some tulle that I use over plants as a barrier to insect pests, but the same fabric could be used as a shade-cloth to lessen the sun's intensity over sensitive plants.

I usually start a few tomato plants in early April to plant out at the end of June, and I will definitely do that again this year, as insurance against a horrible July and August, and if we get a freeze that damages our main fruits, I'll make a big space in the garden for ground cherries, a tomato-relative that I usually grow just a few plants of. That would ease the pain of losing most of the fruit.

I'm thinking about putting in a patch of bush beans soon, too, and I wouldn't normally plant those for four more weeks. If a freeze kills the whole patch, I won't have lost much in the way of resources and time. I can just replant the 20-or-so square feet at the end of April, like usual. If we are past the last freeze, though, it will be good to have already made a start. Since the potato beetles are out and on the prowl, it's likely that other pests - and diseases - also will have made an early start. I'd like to stay ahead of them, as much as possible.

Gardeners have to be flexible - the weather is never exactly normal, but this spring is further from normal than any I've yet seen.  It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.


  1. I'm with you in hoping that summer isn't as much warmer than usual as winter was and spring is being.

  2. Owlfan - Were you able to find seed potatoes this year? Anything new going into your garden?

    Someone offered me some seeds yesterday - he "buys plenty" - and I had to laugh because I also, always, buy plenty. I don't have any new and exciting seeds to try this year, but it looks like the weather is going to provide plenty of gardening excitement. I went ahead and planted a little patch of bush beans yesterday; out at my friend's garden/farm I planted a big bed of summer squash, and I plan to plant zucchini in my own garden either today or tomorrow.

    Hope you are able to get the big chunks of wood out from under your Mom's garden site without too much trouble! Those crazy subdivision builders ...

  3. This is my first year to try potatoes so I've not ever contended with potato beetles. I have, however, read about them so have been on the lookout. What organic/non-toxic method do you use to control?
    Last year those little worms came through and ate all the apple blossoms and leaves so no apples. I'm going to be upset if a late hard freeze gets this year's apples. They are hard and tart and make great jelly, chutney, and apple butter. Also - I like to shake them down in early fall and then sit on the deck and watch the deer come and eat them. (We're easily entertained in the country!) And berries - would hate to lose the blueberry crop or have a late freeze get early strawberries.

    I'm having the worst time this year with fire ants already. They are making their way into my rasied beds and I am trying desperately to keep them away. Any suggestions?

  4. Barbara - I haven't had to deal with the potato beetles in my own yard, but my potato patch is small enough that I would probably just pick them off and drown them in soapy water.

    My friends with the big garden/farm are not organic gardeners, and they use Sevin. Before I started volunteering out there, it had been a long time since I'd seen a container of that product! When I was a kid (many moons ago) my Mom used it in the house for fleas in the summer.

    About fire ants - they are often a huge problem! At our old Plant a Row site, we used a product with Spinosid that seemed to at least chase them out of the veggie garden. I've heard of people using diatomaceous earth, orange oil, coffee grounds, grits and corn meal, too, but I don't have experience with those. This website has some helpful information:

    I'm still a little concerned about the fruit and the chance for a late frost, but the forecast is still for continued warm, so I'm trying to not think about it too much. Instead, I planted the zucchini today. It seems insanely early, but the ground is so warm ...

  5. Yes the weather has been crazy. I too am concerned about having edible lettuce. I hope everyone has great yields this year.

  6. Shelly, Hope the variety(ies) of lettuce you planted are as heat-resistant as possible!

  7. No, no seed potatoes this year either. I hunted, but probably not as hard as I could have. This year things have gotten away from us and I decided that the limbs were just going to stay buried in the garden another year in favor of going ahead and planting. We got the first green beans planted yesterday. The weather has stayed unreasonably warm.

  8. Owlfan - Bummer about the seed potatoes. And I totally understand about leaving the branches under the garden space. In my neighborhood, the builders did the same thing - burying the pieces of trees that they'd had to remove to make room for the houses. In one yard, the "tree pit" was under the driveway, and over time that driveway just slowly caved in. It was a mess! However, the cratering did indicate that the tree stumps and parts were decomposing. Maybe if you can just hold out long enough, the bacteria/fungi/worms will do their magic on the trees under your Mom's yard.

    Most people around here have been calling the early hot weather "unseasonable." I like your word better - I'm going to start calling it "unreasonable," too.


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