Last week, on March 15, I checked the temperature of our garden soil. I was shocked--it was 82 degrees in the shade. The air temperature was around 50 degrees and I was wearing a jacket. I thought that my thermometer was broken so I found another one and re-checked--82 degrees. We had an unusually cold winter with an ice storm, 2 snow storms, and prolonged cold in the teens and twenties. The next morning I checked again--78 degrees. How could that be?
I usually follow Texas A&M guidelines for planting. They have calculated realistic soil temperatures, optimal temperatures, and a maximized temperature at which few seeds will germinate. For most summer vegetables such as cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, etc. the optimal temperature for germination is 85 degrees but realistic temperatures are much lower. Our final freeze date is typically early April, but sometimes we see frost in May. I usually plant my seeds the second or third week in April. I have to admit that I have serious misgivings about planting my tomato plants in the ground right now. I have a few seeds that I'm hoarding and I'm not willing to risk, but, for the most part, I could lose some of them and not really notice.
A few days later, I planted a dozen squash seeds and put a floating row cover over them. This weekend I will probably plant a few cucumber seeds and if I'm feeling brave, I might put a couple of tomato plants in the ground. And maybe a few bush bean seeds and just two or three pole bean varieties and keep my fingers crossed. And okra, basil . . .
What would you do?
This is the time of year for looking forward to the spring vegetable garden. But it does little good to look ahead without reflecting upon last year's garden. Three years ago our garden was wiped out in an early spring flood; the next year a hail storm. Last spring all was going well until I realized that my bean and squash seeds weren't germinating. Upon close scrutiny I noticed that empty seed hulls were sitting on top of the soil. After I saw a snake slithering into my greenhouse I suspected that a mouse or rat was the villain. My husband set up his critter cam in the back corner of the garden and, sure enough, a black and white rat showed up in the feed the next morning. It didn't look like an everyday, common, outdoor rodent. I googled on it. It was, to my horror, a "fancy" rat, something I had never heard of. Apparently people pay money for these critters—some of them garner quite a pretty penny. Either someone let it go into the wild or it escaped from its owner. I was determined to find the human responsible for releasing this garden trespasser and I posted a "Found" notice on Nextdoor.com. I got one response—"it's not mine, but if you can't find its owner let me know. My son would love to have it." I stifled an impulse to invite this person over to rat-hunt at 3:00 a.m. My husband set a trap. The rat went on to its greater rewards that night and I planted more seeds the next day. We picked peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes and with a relatively cool, wet spring we were able to harvest lots of salad greens. The squash and beans never did produce an abundant crop.
Sweltering heat and severe drought ushered in our mid-summer slowdown, accompanied by lethargic, miserable plants. We go through this every summer so I knew that if I could keep everyone alive, they would revitalize in the fall and, in a final burst, provide us with an abundant harvest.
On a breath-sucking, sweltering August morning I was greeted with bed after bed of upturned plants, their roots pointing to the sky, their foliage wilted and torn. I was shocked and angry. I shed a few tears and shouted some expletives. There was no doubt in my mind—it was a terrorist attack—and I knew who committed this heinous act. But that's another story.