Some of the beautiful weather days we’ve been having lately have sure given me the gardening itch. Very often we will have a stretch of four or five days that are sunny, warm, frost free, all trying to convince us that it is safe to sneak in an early crop of a few tomatoes or the beautiful new flower bush you bought last week on impulse because it was so beautiful. After all, the weather has settled. It should be safe to give it a try… right?
Even after all these years (30!) living in the Estancia Valley instead of the Rio Grande Valley where I grew up, I often have to speak to myself rather sternly to prevent myself from grabbing a pack of green bean seeds and heading out to my garden.
When to start your garden here is a tricky thing to judge. If you consult the Old Farmers Almanac, it will tell you that our average last frost date is May 21. Some years we can get by with that. Many years not. About three years ago, I could have gotten by with planting the last week of April! You just never know. My personal rule of thumb is nothing tender before Memorial Day.
With farming being our way of making a living, we have gotten pretty good at watching the weather. It is one of the skills I’ve picked up through the years, although George is much better at it than I am. He could get a job doing weather reports on one of the local TV stations. I bet he’d be at least as accurate as they are. Maybe more.
One of the things you can watch to see if our weather is going to be calm for more than the next 10 minutes is to look at the jet stream. It affects the route that all the lows and highs follow and helps determine how windy it is going to be. If there is a big ol’ storm wrapped around in itself in the Gulf of Alaska, you can be sure we are going to have something come through in the next few days. The jet stream kind of steers it. That is particularly true when we are watching for the first frost in the fall.
But I digress.
Keep in mind that when you put your seeds or plants out, the soil temperature needs to be warm too. Especially seeds. They will just sit there and rot. Sometimes bedding plants can survive but will become stunted from being too cold for too long. Sometimes they come out of it, sometimes they don’t.
I know I’ve said this before, and I will try to quit bringing it up, but one of the VERY best things you can do for your garden is to have a wind break. I’ve seen, with my own eyes, a field that part is on top of a hill and then the hill drops away. The top of the hill is blocking the wind for the crop below the hill, and you can see the results. The crop protected by the hill will thrive while the crop on the top, in more direct wind, will struggle. If you think about it, there is the physical damage that can occur, but the amount of water the plant looses through transpiration?! The wind-blown plants will take time, and more water, and extra energy to recover. In most cases, it won’t catch up.
Wind breaks can be anything from a lovely wall of shrubs and trees to big ugly walls and everything in between. What you use will completely depend on how you want it to function, what your budget is, what your space requires etc. (Side note: you can contact the county extension office and ask for their handout for “Green Belts” if you want to try the living option.) Do keep in mind that some shelter is better than no shelter, even if you feel like it is inadequate.
Just briefly I’ll reiterate, wind protection for your newly planted bedding plants is a must. Use whatever you have on hand. Big Gulp cups, milk jugs, five-gallon buckets, small boxes (they may blow away) truly, anything you can find or buy. If needed, weigh things down with a rock. Your neighbors, like mine, may think you are growing trash in your garden, but they’ll not be laughing when, come the end of June, your plants are thriving and starting to produce.
Hold on. It’s just a few more weeks until we will be safe. From the frost anyway. We won’t talk about rogue hailstorms yet.