Don’t try to tell her she has to wait for robins to sing.
Don’t ever say she’s jumping the gun by pushing the spring.
She’ll wave a dirty trowel and say, “So what if I do?
If you had spent your life fighting winter, you’d push it too.”
Pushing Spring Tango, by Peter and Lou Berryman
It’s coming. In fact it’s “just around the corner,” to use the cliché. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the vernal equinox (a.k.a. spring) will arrive on March 20th at 12:15 PM EDT. Oh happy day! Spring will be here at last! Time to put away the snow shovels and winter clothing! Time to dance in the sunshine and warm weather! And, of course, it’s time to get out in the garden, dig up the soil, and begin planting!
Uh, not so fast. We humans with our artificial time measurements may have decided that spring has arrived on a certain day, but Mother Nature may be a little behind us. It is still possible to have snow in March and April and even remotely in May. And temperatures have not yet risen to “let’s hit the beach” levels yet. The soil will be too cold and hard to dig, and even if you do succeed in planting something in it, I can almost guarantee that you’re going to get a whole lot of nothing.
“But I’m so tired of being cooped up in the house and being surrounded by nothing but snow, cold, and miserable wet weather,” you say. “I can’t take it anymore! I want to get out and plant – now!”
Oh ye of little patience. But fortunately there are solutions for eager beavers like you. They are called season extending devices. Collectively, they are physical structures designed to insulate tender seedlings from harsh weather and allow you to get an early start on the growing season and keep on growing after the season officially ends.
There are many examples of season extending devices.
Plastic milk cartons – These are probably the simplest and cheapest types of season extending devices. Simply take a washed empty plastic milk carton, cut off the bottom two inches and use the remainder to cover each individual plant.
Bell cloche – These are structures made out of glass and shaped like a bell. They work the same way as plastic milk cartons. They are beautifully constructed and tend to be more aesthetically pleasing than plastic milk cartons. However, they are still glass and will still break if you drop them, so be careful.
Row covers – Row covers are fabric blankets that come in a wide variety of thicknesses. They are placed over growing seedlings and supported by metal or plastic hoops. Heavy fabric row covers are used to insulate plants from cold temperatures; lighter weight fabric row covers are used to protect plants from insect pests.
Cold frame/hot bed – Cold frames are mini-greenhouses. They consist of a wooden structure with a hinged transparent lid (the transparent portion is usually made of glass surrounded by a wooden frame. They function the same way as true greenhouses, namely that sunlight shines through the glass top and warms up the inside. The heat cannot escape so the inside remains warmer than the surrounding atmosphere. On warmer days, the lid is opened slightly to allow excess heat to escape. If supplemental heat is provided, then the cold frame becomes a hot bed.
Wall o’ water – These consist of series of plastic “pockets” that, when filled with water, create a teepee-like structure that surrounds the plant. The water filled tubes absorb the heat of the sun during the day and releases heat to the plants at night. If the temperature should drop to zero and the water freeze, then more heat is released to keep the plant warm (remember, water has to release heat in order to freeze). On some cold nights, it’s not unheard of to see steam rising out of the walls o’ water.
So if you truly cannot wait for warmer weather, then go ahead and plant. But if you want your seeds and seedlings to actually grow, then I strongly recommend investing in a season extending device such as the ones listed above.