A cold March means waiting to plant vegetables

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I just confirmed what I was already pretty sure about. It was warmer in January than either February or March.

According to the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network in Dearing, Ga., our average temperature for January was 53.3 degrees. For February it was 48.3 and for March (through Tuesday) it was 50.7 degrees.

How many times has it been colder in March than January? I figured not many.

I had to find out, so I called Pam Knox, the climatologist at the University of Georgia.

Since record keeping started in 1875, there have only been six years where March was colder than January. The last time that happened was 53 years ago in 1960. The average was only 44.5 degrees, and January was 45.7.

I tell you this in letting you know that the soil temperature is just too cold right now to plant warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes. Of course, it might rise pretty rapidly in another week or two.

Ideally the soil temperature should be at least 60 degrees. 65 is even better. Again as of Tuesday, it was only around 50 with that frigid Sunday, Monday and Tuesday weather.

Even though we have passed the last average frost date, March 20, we are really not out of the woods for about another two weeks regardless of the soil temperature.

Always be prepared to cover plants in case of a late frost. The downside of planting when the soil is cold even if we don’t get another frost is the plants just sit there and don’t grow.

A plant just sitting there not growing is just ripe for all kinds of problems. Of course, the upside in planting early is trying to beat the insect and disease pressures that come later.

If you are waiting to plant, you can at least make plans for the summer garden and get some pre-planting work done. You can order or buy seed for plants that are direct-seeded.

There are plenty of seed selections at our local garden centers or you can buy seed from catalogs or on the internet. Before you buy or order, check our Extension brochures for recommended varieties so you know you will be growing vegetables that do well in our area.

If you buy transplants, you are pretty much limited to what Bonnie Plant farm supplies except for two or three local greenhouses that grow their own transplants.

Tomatoes, which almost everyone grows, are best planted as young seedlings. If you had wanted to start tomatoes from seed, at least for early planting, you should have done that a few weeks ago. But you can still plant some seed in containers for later planting because you would be better off staggering your plantings rather than planting all of them at one time.

The later-planted tomatoes will last longer in the fall because of diseases consuming the earlier planted tomatoes.

The garden centers will have a nice selection of transplants. Buy only healthy-looking plants. If they look wilted, have blooms, or look diseased leave them at the store, even if they have been marked down. Buying sick plants that might not perform well or die will delay you from that first tomato sandwich.

Vegetable varieties are always changing. Even though I suggested you go by Extension Service brochures for recommended varieties, don’t hesitate to try something new.

Just try them on a small scale until you see how well they adapt to your growing conditions and how well you like them.

They could wind up being better than a variety that you might have grown for years.

You might want to try heirloom varieties this year. Heirlooms are really popular now as you get vegetables that have been passed down from generation to generation. More and more seed companies are carrying heirloom varieties.

You can start outside by clearing off your garden spot. Remove old debris from last season. Use a turning plow or tiller to bury old crop litter and work it into the soil.

For new gardeners, pick a spot that has good sunlight, good soil drainage and a source of water. It would be best if your garden spot gets at least six to eight hours of direct sun per day. Morning sun is better than the hot afternoon sun. Sites closer to the house will always get more attention than those far away.

Draw a map of your garden lay out. If space is limited, don’t plant crops that need a lot of room, such as watermelons.

Don’t overplant your garden. Know how much you can eat, preserve and give away and make that your limit. Plant vegetables that mature at the same time adjacent to one another so that when planting successive crops, you won’t have to squeeze between other crops still growing.

Take a soil sample now (if you haven’t already) to check your fertility status and soil pH. If your pH is too low, add lime to raise the pH to a desirable range. Lime as soon as possible as it takes a few weeks to alter the pH, even with the best quality lime.

Don’t let your garden spot grow up in weeds. Keep it mowed or tilled until you are ready to plant.

After you initially till, you may get a flush of weed growth. Hoe them or kill them with a herbicide such as glyphosate (Roundup) before you plant to reduce later weed problems.

UPCOMING EVENTS

• Evans Town Farmers Market behind the Columbia County library in Evans every Thursday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. through June. This market is a direct farm-to-customer venue for local farmers, growers, value-added food producers and handcraft artisans who follow sustainable and/or organic practices.

• The Columbia County Extension office, at 6420 Pollards Pond Road in Appling, will hold an egg candling class on May 1, presented by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Participants need to sign up for a two-hour block of time starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., with each block limited to 12 people. Call Bradley or Deborah at the Georgia Department of Agriculture at (770) 535-5955 to sign up for the class.

• The inaugural Jefferson Ag and Safety Day will be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 6 at the Louisville Loins Club Fairgrounds. Admission is free. Call the Jefferson County Extension office for details at (478) 625-3046.


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