Dogwoods, azaleas, all sorts of little ephemeral spring things that grow on the forest floor – it’s all in bloom, or even past bloom. The ground is warm enough that morels have been popping up, and at my friend’s garden/farm out on Dallas Highway, the Colorado potato beetles are already out. Last year, the potato beetles didn’t make their appearance until late April.
All of the unusually early activity is enough to make any gardener or farmer uneasy. If this is the end of winter, what will summer look like? And of course, there is the problem that a reversion to normal weather, with the chance of temperatures back into the mid- to low 20s, could damage the fruit that’s beginning to form on trees and bushes in yards and orchards all around. Losing the early crop of figs wouldn’t be too horrible – our fig tree sets another crop later in the spring – but most of the other fruits in my yard bloom and set one crop of fruit each year (Heritage raspberries, an exception, make an additional small crop in late summer). I’d rather not lose the blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries, and plums.
As the weather continues to be strange, I find myself making contingency plans for a “bad” gardening year. Grandpa Bill, gardening last year in Oklahoma’s 60-plus days of above-100-degree weather, didn’t really get a tomato crop. He got peppers, but he had rigged a shade over each plant to help protect the fruits from sun-scald. I am going to keep that strategy in mind – I have some tulle that I use over plants as a barrier to insect pests, but the same fabric could be used as a shade-cloth to lessen the sun’s intensity over sensitive plants.
I usually start a few tomato plants in early April to plant out at the end of June, and I will definitely do that again this year, as insurance against a horrible July and August, and if we get a freeze that damages our main fruits, I’ll make a big space in the garden for ground cherries, a tomato-relative that I usually grow just a few plants of. That would ease the pain of losing most of the fruit.
I’m thinking about putting in a patch of bush beans soon, too, and I wouldn’t normally plant those for four more weeks. If a freeze kills the whole patch, I won’t have lost much in the way of resources and time. I can just replant the 20-or-so square feet at the end of April, like usual. If we are past the last freeze, though, it will be good to have already made a start. Since the potato beetles are out and on the prowl, it’s likely that other pests – and diseases – also will have made an early start. I’d like to stay ahead of them, as much as possible.
Gardeners have to be flexible – the weather is never exactly normal, but this spring is further from normal than any I’ve yet seen. It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.