With the exception of cabbage, my early garden is doing well.
I’ve got a good stand of peas and I think every kale seed I raked into the soil came up.
All my onions and beets are up and my potatoes are pushing their way through the top of the ground.
Then there is the cabbage. The first six-pack I transplanted on March 18 froze when the temperature dropped to 23 degrees two nights later. I haven’t had that happen in 20 years.
Once the roots become established, the plants toughen, but the really cold hit this cabbage while it was tender. Yes, the plants probably would have come back out, but it would have taken a long time for them to rebound. It was simpler just to replant.
The temperature dropped to about 25 two nights after the second planting, and this cabbage, while it didn’t get killed, got burned. It will be OK, but it will take a while to recover.
I’ve set out cabbage in February and had it do well, even when covered with snow. But this March, there were some unusually cold nights that just kept coming.
Cabbage these days is started in a greenhouse and is not used to cold weather. The plants have that dark green color. It used to be that cabbage was started in a hotbed and the plants, which had an almost blueish color, were pulled individually and sold in bunches. This cabbage was much tougher because it was more accustomed to cold. Greenhouse cabbage takes a couple of weeks to acclimate to the cold.
I started my yellow squash and zucchini plants the first week of the month and they are now up and looking good. I take them outside during sunny days and bring them into the basement at night. They will be ready to transplant into the garden by the end of the month.
Weather permitting, I will start transplanting tomatoes in about 10 days. If you live east of Interstate 95, you might start putting some in the ground right now.
There is, of course, no guarantee that there will not be another frost, even in the Northern Neck, but the chances for a real freeze are very slim. If you have only six or eight tomato plants, you can cover them if there is a threat of frost.
If there is frost and your plants are uncovered, there is still hope. As long as you spray the plants with water before the sun hits them, they should be OK. A number of times over the years, I have been up at 5 a.m. in early May to spray off the frost. That action has saved a lot of tomatoes.
Remember that frost can occur at temperatures of 38 degrees or below. The air temperature does not have to get down to 32.
Frost at 38 degrees generally won’t kill your plants, especially if they have been out for a week or so and the roots are established. The leaves, however, will get burned and growth will be stunted. The best idea is to cover the plants or spray them with water before the sun hits them.
There is a difference between a frost and a freeze (some people do not know this). When the temperature drops below 32, you have a freeze. No amount of covering is going to save your tender plants when the temperature drops into the upper 20s.
The threat of frost is usually gone by the last week in April east of I–95, while the possibility of frost remains until about May 10 in the Virginia Piedmont.
The latest recorded frost in this area, however, is early June, and about 20 years ago, the temperature at my house got down to 28 degrees on May 22. That year I lost half my tomato crop.
If the soil is dry enough, you can start planting green beans (not lima) and corn almost any time now, although I would wait another week or so west of I–95. It will take 10 days to two weeks for the seeds to germinate (depending on the temperature of the soil) and by that time the threat of frost will be greatly diminished (still no guarantee).
The first of May is plenty early to plant watermelons, cantaloupes, okra and cucumbers. If you can find these plants at a greenhouse, you’ll get a head start. Watermelons take about 90 days to harvest while cantaloupes are ready in 70–75 days.
My favorite watermelon is Crimson Sweet. It has a good size and, as the name suggests, it is very sweet. Hales Best is a good cantaloupe for this part of the country.
I give this warning every spring for novice gardeners. Never let fertilizer touch the roots of your plants, especially tomatoes. It will burn them and often kill the plant.
Also, pull those root balls apart to give the roots a chance to reach out into the soil.
Gardening time is here again. Go play in the dirt.