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Down the Garden Path

What is with the Weather?

Last week we experienced some of that "What did you expect, it's Northern Illinois" kind of weather. This week the forecast is still for cooling night time temperatures and trending up after that. This is that wake up call to remind us that we should be gardening by the weather and not rely on just calendar dates.

Setting out the tender and warm loving vegetables will not be getting ahead really as those plants will just sit there being stressed and set back. They may even be outgrown by plants put in the garden later when it is warmer and more appropriate. Gardeners can discuss the average frost free date for our area, yet the fact is over a thirty year history of spring temperatures, this date can vary as much as two weeks either side.

The idea of planting vegetables in their preferred growing conditions is directly related to the range of soil temperatures required for strong quick seed germination. Cabbage, carrots, radishes and Chard for example do well when the soil temperatures are as low as 50 degrees. Cabbage transplants and seeds of chard and carrots are sown this early. A good gardening trick is to also so the radish in the same row as the carrots. The radishes are up ahead the carrots, germinating in a week or less marking the carrot row and are harvested long before they might interfere with carrot root development. On the other extreme our warm loving vegetables germinate best when soils 65 or 70 degrees. This is why we talk about very hardy, frost tolerant, tender and warm loving vegetables. The seeds or transplants from each group prefer those temperatures to perform at their best for the gardener. Besides the preferred soil temperatures for these crops, the gardener then ensures that proper plant development will also occur. While you can plant cabbage transplants or so spinach later in the season and they will grow, cabbage may have very loose and open heads and the spinach may bolt and go to seed instead.

Gardeners have learned how to extend the growing season by protecting the garden plantings from the late frosts or light freezes in the spring and again in the late fall from early cold weather with row covers. Row covers and other homemade treatments can either trap warm air during the day keeping the otherwise susceptible plants alive at night or just protecting them at night by covering them up, separating them from the colder settling nighttime temperatures. Closing the cold frame lid can protect the transplants you are hardening off or if more is needed, placing a gallon jug of hot water can also help. As much as we want to hurry up the gardening season, remember in the end Mother Nature can put gardeners in their place by dishing out some bad weather and damage or outright killing our new plantings, so keep an eye on the forecast and plan accordingly. -30-