Thursday, March 24, 2011

It Might not be too Early

Admit it. You have the itch. You live in colder climes but yet you don’t want to wait for May 15 to begin playing in your vegetable garden. You don’t have to. Have at it now.

To start with, pull, rake and grade to bare earth the vestiges of last year’s harvest. Make adjustments as well to hardscape elements, like trellises for beans, cukes and other vine crops.

If your garden soil is well amended and well drained, you may be able to turn some over and rake it into a nice seedbed. If it’s not, don’t worry, just skip turning it over.

Planting some things early is a waste of time because seeds will rot before sprouting, damp off shortly after or simply be killed by frost.

Some other plants, however, will cheat quite well with a little protection. Peas, broccoli, beats and carrots will all do OK in colder weather. Just wait until night-time lows are in the lower 40s and beware the occasional cold snap which will require extra protection.

That protection can come in the form of plastic sheeting or even an old blanket.
Greenhouse structures with trays and zippered plastic are “on sale” in some of our Western New York grocery stores but $59.99 is not a bargain.

You can go to the old standby, creating your own small artificial greenhouse using old storm windows. Old glass shower doors work as well. Just be careful – if you have a nice garden plot and enjoy barefoot gardening, broken glass can spoil your fun in a hurry. Also, many old storms have lead paint and lead-laden glazing that you really don’t want in your garden.

Other makeshift season cheaters are good as well. For example, those broccoli plants you started several weeks ago can start to survive outside with some extra care.

Here’s a favorite trick. Remove the bottom of a plastic milk jug. Discard the lid. Place the altered jug over the top of young plants. The jug will provide a warmer environment and frost protection. Leaving the lid off will prevent overheating on sunny days.

No matter what, be creative. Experiment. Keep a diary so you remember what worked and what didn’t. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Joe Genco is a contributing writer to Mike the Gardener Enterprises, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, and an avid vegetable gardener himself, who works for New England Financial as a financial services representative. You can contact him at

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