It’s been a cold and wet Spring on the west coast and this year, I’ve felt no big hurry to put much of anything in the ground. Well, a few weeks ago we put some stuff under the cold frames and have been picking off of our over-wintered corn salad, spinach, arugula, kale, mustard greens and chard, but this year, my approach is going to be a little different. With the new Victory Gardens business under way, school wrapping up for the semester and being in the throws of grant writing season, I’ve decided that I’m going to take my accumulated knowledge from the last 5 years and decide that this year, I’m starting all my cold stuff (kale, mustard, arugula, radish, etc) this week-end and not stressing about putting those seeds in the ground until I feel its time. You see, I’ve always been an eager farmer, wanting to maximize the growing season as much as I could, but you know what? The kale that I plant on March 1st, looks the same as the kale I plant on April 1st by the time mid May rolls around… and it’s much more likely to bolt. FORGET IT! I have stuff to munch on from last year, it’s cold still and I’m going to chill….
A few thoughts about frost from my favorite west coast gardener, Linda Gilkeson:
Frost Free Dates? New gardeners to the coast often ask what they should use as an average last frost free date. This is a concept with little meaning here (unless you happen to live at your local airport, where weather records are kept). In this region there are big differences in frost patterns over very small areas because of the complicated geography from sea shores to mountain slopes. While some sheltered coastal gardens may see only a few days of below freezing all winter, gardens farther inland or those in low-lying land might still have ground frosts into May. And while we might think of this region as having a ‘warm’ climate compared to the rest of the country, it is only a warm winter—definitely not a warm summer. Late frost doesn’t matter for the hardy crops we grow because once they get used to outdoor temperatures (are hardened off), even small seedlings tolerate several degrees of frost. But for warmth-loving crops, we are in the same boat as other northern gardeners. The May long weekend is the target date for planting tomatoes in much of the rest of Canada and we often can’t do any better than that, especially in cooler than normal weather or in exposed coastal gardens. In my garden it can be early June before I put out the really delicate plants such as sweet basil and cucumbers.