Saturday, April 25, 2015

Early Spring Sowing

A few days ago, my region just passed it's last danger of frost date.  Most of New York City is in Zone 7a, and we generally use April 23 as that date, while many local gardeners also consider ten days earlier as a safe, post-frost date.  The earlier date is better defined as a "last average frost" when we can look at the 10-day-forecast for reassurance, rather than the more conservative "last danger of frost" date.  

volunteers preparing beds in mid-March
What many gardeners get wrong, is that we don't have to wait for either of these "safe" dates to begin to direct sow frost-tollerant seeds.  I think the term "frost-tollerant" or "cold crop" should be self explanatory, but many still wait.  My general belief is that these seeds can be planted as soon as the ground thaws and when we don't expect the temperature to drop below 25 during the next few weeks.  I would not transplant cold crop seedlings that early, as those particular plants may not yet be accustomed to the harsh elements.  Seeds on the other hand, will germinate in the elements so thus will be acclimated from day 1.  They will also take their time to germinate during the near-freezing weather, thus buying time and lowering risk.  A buried seed won't be affected by a mid to late-March deep freeze, and by the time it does germinate, the odds of that deep freeze will approach zero.  So, not to make my reasoning too confusing... but the biggest risk is if there's an unseasonable warm-spell (i.e., 50s or 60s) in mid-March, followed by an equally unseasonable cold spell (i.e., low 20s) soon after.  Those quickly germinated plants may be vulnerable, but that scenario is unlikely.

We began sowing seeds a few hours
before this storm began

I started sowing many cold crops as early as March 19.  We had a mid-March thaw, but soon a small blizzard was forecasted.  My main concern wasn't that week's weather, but just time management and gradually getting each space planted incrementally.  If I only had one small garden, planting mid-March vs. a few weeks later would probably show no different results, as the cold temperatures kept the seeds more-or-less in hibernation.  But, I do run several gardens, and knew that I couldn't be in many places at one time...  Better to get things started earlier, with little to no downsides.

The frost-tollerant cold crops that can be sowed are mostly leafy greens and root vegetables, plus peas and fava beans.  The list of applicable crops is longer, but those that we planted were kale, collards, pak choy, turnips, lettuce, carrots, arugula, chard, cilantro and peas.  

Here's a different (unplanted garden),
photographed the day after the s
mall blizzard
...a few days later, after "the great thaw".
Now the farm looks ready to grow...

As predicted, the seeds were fine with a little snow cover.  A week or two later, we began to see life.  

the first to sprout were spinach, collards
 and kale
Soon after, we had chard, (more) kale, sunflowers
 and arugula

By mid-April, when many gardeners were beginning to plant their gardens, some of our crops began to show their true leaves.  They are well-stablished and may catch up to more mature hot-house grown plants that are transplanted this week.



In a few weeks we'll start to plant some warm-weather crops.