I like to direct-seed leaf lettuce under a row-cover-coated caterpillar tunnel in early February, a holdover from gardening half a zone warmer than where we are now. Most years, those early lettuce either don’t sprout or sprout and perish. This year is the outlier that makes me keep jumping the gun. Lettuce planted on Valentine’s Day is well established now at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, the more dependable way to get a jumpstart on the garden year in our climate is by starting seedlings inside. I usually go for all-in-one flats, but Mark bought me a bunch of smaller containers that fit into a flat and I’m getting a lot out of the mix-and-match approach. This way, I can start a flat of veggies that germinate at different rates, leaving the slow germinaters (like parsley) behind under cover while pulling out the fast germinaters (like broccoli). Then I can start more seedlings to fill in gaps atop that all-important heat pad.
I’ve even gotten into starting peas inside, but those I do in fifty-section flats because the seedlings have to be set out as soon as the tops are up. Here, I’m planting the first flat into Mark’s porch raised bed.
Seedlings are fun, but what about goodies we can eat right now? Most years are so cold up here that, even under cover, leafy greens perish before spring. This winter, in contrast was mild by our standards. A few kale plants are hanging on under the row covers while uncovered arugula is already growing and putting up flower heads. Looks like we’re having sauteed arugula for dinner!
If you have a solar pool cover lying around unused, it might be worth using to preheat your garden soil. We had the pleasure of seeing one in action this past weekend…
…and were impressed by the results. Under the pool cover, soil was 43 degrees on an overcast day. Outside, the soil in an otherwise-identical raised bed was 39 degrees.
Is that enough extra warmth to start your spring crops now? I’ve always tried to jump the gun using the absolutely minimum germination temperatures. Based on that, the soil under the pool cover is warm enough for most spring crops.
However, I generally get very spotty germination when I plant so early. No wonder since, I learned this week, peas planted at 42 degrees will take 36 days to germinate!
We’ve gotten into starting unconventional seedlings inside as a result, but more on that in a later post. For now, that old truism about planting peas on Valentine’s Day — we won’t.