The link promised to tell me when I should start my vegetable garden—when to sow seeds indoors, and when to sow or transplant outdoors. Just type in my zip code, and I’d have information customized for my area, courtesy of the National Gardening Association. I rarely click on ads, but I’ve found the NGA to be helpful in the past. Besides, I was curious. I have 24 years of records telling me when to plant in my area—how would their site measure up?
“Oh, that’s a great place to go birding—they were everywhere! We had such a long species list and I even got a lifer!”
“Really? We’ve been there and we didn’t see anything—just one House Finch and a Northern Flicker. It was so disappointing!”
One thing I’ve learned (the hard way) is that it pays to be patient. Rushing the season usually results in cold-stunted plants, reduced yields, or, even worse, losing an entire crop to a late frost or snowstorm.
For example, most garden guides tell you to plant broccoli and other crucifers early—two weeks before your average last frost date—as the young plants can stand some frost. What they don’t tell you is that prolonged exposure to cold temperatures will ruin your chances for a harvest. Two to three days of temperatures that stay below 40 degrees will fool the seedlings into thinking they’ve experienced winter (can’t blame them a bit!). Instead of growing up and producing the nice, succulent head you’re anticipating, the broccoli will try to force the issue and “button.” That is, it will rush to bloom while still small, and all you get is a one-inch (or smaller) head with a bitter taste and tough texture. Bleah!
Timing the Garden
The calendar may say “Spring” but here in Colorado it’s still winter. Still, the first signs of spring are there if you look for them. Days are getting longer. Birds are wearing their courting feathers and breaking into spontaneous song. Buds are swelling on bare branches. And gardeners are reemerging from their winter hibernation.
Hopefully, you’ve already tested any stored seeds for viability, then placed your seed order or picked from the racks at your local garden center. When your packets arrive, store them in a cool, dry place. I like to sort mine into zip-lock baggies, then arrange the bags in a clear plastic shoebox. Colorado is naturally dry, but reusing the bags of desiccant that come in products such as new shoes and purses will help in more humid regions.
It’s almost Saint Patrick’s Day, the traditional planting date for peas. Should you sow on March 17?
Not if you live along the Front Range! While St. Patty’s Day may work fine for New England, it’s probably the wrong day to plant for much of the country.
If you live in a warm climate (E.g., parts of California, Florida, and Arizona), you are far too late. Peas should be planted as a winter crop, so they can grow while the weather is cool and humidity is higher.
And if you live here in the Pikes Peak area, mid-March is much too early. Sure, peas planted now may survive and grow and produce a crop. But they may also rot in too-cold soil, waiting for temperatures at which they can germinate.
Peas & Carrots
Peas and carrots are a classic couple in the kitchen, but what about the garden?
Normally, peas are sown in early spring. The traditional date is St. Patrick’s Day. While that may work in gentler climes, at 7,000 ft. elevation I would need a drill to create holes in my frozen ground. I usually plant a month later, on Tax Day. At least it gives me something to enjoy on that date.
This year, weekly snowstorms have delayed all my gardening chores. I finally got my peas into the ground on May 6. I don’t have great expectations for the harvest. Maybe we’ll have a cool start to the summer, and my husband will get to enjoy his Sugar Snaps. Maybe not. That’s the gamble of gardening in Colorado.
Carrots, on the other hand, are usually planted a week or two before the average last frost date. The cool temperatures and snow-damp soil help keep the seeds from drying out during the three weeks it takes them to germinate.
This year, I sowed carrots on the same day as the peas. At least they’re right on schedule. I took the time to arrange the seeds in blocks of 16 per square foot, so I won’t have much thinning to do later. In my 4 x 4 foot carrot bed, that gives me 256 carrots—plenty for our needs.