The weather has broken. You can feel it in the hectic pace here at Grossmans. The greenhouses are filling up to a soundtrack of cumbia and laughter, romantica and tsismis.
And we are starting lots of vegetables. Peppers and eggplant were seeded two weeks ago. We try to sow them about 8 weeks before the elusive May 15 frost free date, but there is still plenty of time to start your own. We were sad to learn that Maria’s favorite pepper – Mucho Nacho – is no longer available, but we’re excited to introduce Suribachi, another large jalapeno with just the right blend of heat and flavor.
Tomatoes get seeded weekly starting April 1. That way some are ready for the daring earlybirds, while the majority of plants are perfect for late May transplanting. The diseases Early and Late blight have become a problem in recent years. We’ve learned a few tricks we can pass on to you and are growing several new varieties with varying degrees of resistance to both.
Leeks, onions, beets, lettuce, kale and chard all handle cooler weather (including light frosts) and are already filling the benches, along with some peas and beans. All of these (except the beans, of course) can be planted outside as soon as the soil is workable. “Workable” generally means that when you grab a handful of dirt and squeeze it in your palm it forms a loose, crumbly ball. At that point you can till or plant without harming the soil structure. If it oozes water or stays in a tight ball, better wait until it is a tad drier.
Finding the right time to plant outside can be trickier than just a date. Cold soil and cool nights will prevent warm weather crops like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, beans, and squash from thriving, even without freezes. We cheat a bit: Hot caps and milk jugs form mini greenhouses that warm soil and the air. And then there is the miracle spun-bonded fabric used as floating row covers. It can raise plant zone temperature by up to 6 degrees and hold night temps around 2 degrees higher than ambient air. It lets in air and rain, lets moisture out and keeps many insects away.
Clear plastic sheeting works too, but takes a lot more management – In my first attempt to grow very early sweet corn we had a great crop growing in April – unheard of at the time. Then came two 90 degree days that forced us to remove the plastic. Followed by, you guessed it, three nights in the low 20’s. Good try, anyway.
Patio pots are trending for a good reason. They fit small living spaces and they can stay indoors until conditions are perfect. Breeders have been scrambling to meet demand for compact growing vegetables, and are finally introducing good tasting varieties like “Sweetheart of the Patio” and “Terenzo,” tomatoes that produce well in small spaces.
And then there is that other fun container trend – mixing edibles like Bright Lights chard with ornamentals. Be sure to check out some of the combinations Penny and Eileen will be introducing.
Enough rambling. The vegetables are responding to my call and I have to run. And if you get THAT reference we definitely need to get together for a beer or two. Beer is a vegetable, right?
Bruce Carson - Greenhouse and Production Manager