For those who hold fast to the tradition of planting peas and
onions in the garden on St. Patrick’s Day, chances are it didn’t work this
That was the week the area narrowly avoided a snowstorm but
was left with bone-chillingly cold days.
It’s not just the temperature that has avid gardeners
waiting and wishing.
Jim Heck, sales manager for the Northampton Farm Bureau Co-op
in Tatamy, says people are waiting for the ground to dry so that they can get
out in the garden to till and prepare the soil for planting.
Doug Hall, managing editor of Rodale’s Organic Gardening
magazine, echoes the sentiment.
“If I step on the ground it’s like stepping on a wet sponge —
a sign it’s too wet to be in the garden,” Hall says.
Heck worries the harsh winter will shorten the growing
season, chiefly by hampering the early planting window that some gardeners are
used to taking advantage of in mid- to late March.
But is there something home gardeners can be doing now to
“That’s a million dollar question,” Heck says.
“People are buying seeds now, and starting to purchase soils
and starting mixes for transplants,” Heck says.
Beyond that, it’s kind of a waiting game.
The farm bureau is celebrating its 80th year and sells a
variety of plants and gardening equipment. He says that in a week or so, they’ll
have some frost-tolerant vegetable transplants for sale.
“The weather’s that secret ingredient that none of us control
but has a huge impact,” Heck adds.
Heck advises customers to start with a soil test, especially
for those gardeners who haven’t had success with backyard gardens in the past.
The $10-$12 kit, sold at the farm bureau, lets a homeowner
know exactly what they’re working with and what will flourish or may need help
in their soil. Heck says the directions are easy to follow, and gets sent to a
reputable lab for testing.
Other tips could be to start applying compost or fertilizer
to the ground in the near future, though Heck says most people wait until
they’re ready to till the soil.
Heck cautions against jumping into the garden too early, as
overworking the soil when it’s wet can compact it and degrade the soil
“You have to hope there will be some sense of normalcy for
the month of April,” Heck says.
And his best advice is to buy seeds and equipment now so that
gardeners are ready to jump in once the weather breaks.
Best tips for success
For Hall, gardening has been both a job and a hobby that he’s
been honing for more than 40 years. Hall studied horticulture in college, and besides working for Organic Gardening, he’s also the manager in charge of
Rodale’s test garden at the Rodale Institute near Kutztown,
The weather may not be very encouraging at this point in the
year. But Hall says this is the time for possibility, likening the garden to “a
fresh slate to be reimagined.”
Those with a sunny window sill or growing light can get seeds
started indoors to give their garden a jump start.
Hall planted pepper seeds last week, which need eight weeks
to grow before being planted outside. And he hopes to get some tomato seeds
started this week (which need, on average, six weeks to grow).
The ground may not be ready for the heat-loving crops like
peppers and tomatoes until next month, though he’s optimistic he could be
planting those outside as early as Mother’s Day.
Hall says gardeners don’t gain anything by setting those
tomatoes out early. It’s better to wait to be sure the overnight lows won’t dip
below 40 or 50 degrees.
Once the ground dries out, hopefully in two weeks or so,
plants that are frost-tolerant should be ready to be planted, Hall says.
Peas, onions, leeks, broccoli, collard greens and kale would
be likely contenders.
Try something new
Every year Hall tries a few new things in his own garden and
the test garden, the latter of which fuels the magazine’s stories and
photographs throughout the year.
This year nearly half the test garden is dedicated to
varieties of baby vegetables, ones designed to be harvested at an immature stage
and those bred genetically dwarfed.
What will work in your garden? It’s hard to say.
Experience is the best guide for gardeners, Hall says. Those
new to the hobby could gain tips on the best varieties to plant in the area
from friends or co-workers who garden or by reaching out to a local master
gardener program or cooperative extension.
“Anyone that gardens knows there’s no one way to do things.
Just leap in and plant something,” Hall says. “It’s just amazing that nature
will take it from there.”
* * *
Best varieties to plant locally
- Heck says he’s found:
“Leaf or cutting lettuce is easier to grow than a head of
“Beets take a little longer to grow but are relatively easy.
“Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes and beans, are
all good starters, though each may have its own feeding requirements.”
- Hall says:
has a very accommodating climate, and evenness of rainfall.”
He adds leafy greens, onions, radishes and green beans to
He directs curious gardeners to Penn State Cooperative
Extension’s Vegetable Variety Recommendations list.
The guide outlines the days to harvest, disease resistance, growing
notes and specific varieties that have proven successful. Find it here: http://tinyurl.com/l5qhp6o
Find other gardening tips from fledgling seeds to natural pest control methods, plus monthly gardening to-do lists, at organicgardening.com.
* * *
A sale’s cropping up
Rodale Institute will
host a Cold Crop Plant Sale at its farm, 611 Siegfriedale Road near
Stock up on organic lettuces,
broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, herbs, trees, shrubs, tools, compost, seeds
When? 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 11 and 12.
Rodale will also host a Preview
Party 4 to 6
p.m. April 10 with the first pick
of plants, light refreshments, music and expert tips. Tickets cost $25 per
person and $40 per family. Call 610-683-1443 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to
reserve a spot.