Garden's Clock Is Ticking

Planting: Sowing vegetable seeds at just the right moment helps get the best yields

In the Garden

April 18, 1999|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to the Sun

With visions of tender-crisp snap beans drizzled with thyme butter dancing in my head, I ache to get everything in the ground now, but resist the temptation.

April is an unsettled time in the garden, when warm days can be followed by chilly rains and cool nights, which makes it a transitional planting time. Cool weather vegetables like lettuces, beets and carrots can continue to go in. It's last call for peas and spinach, except for the New Zealand type. You can also begin planting warmer-weather vegetables -- corn, Florence fennel, chard and beans, most of which, like earlier vegetables, benefit your table by succession planting -- sowing new seed every 10 days to two weeks -- for a continuous supply of superbly fresh produce.

While some midseason vegetables, like beans, are temperature- sensitive, others will stand a chilly stretch or even a mild frost. Potatoes, corn and Florence fennel can be planted as early as April 1.

Organic farmer Joseph Towner of Kent County began putting in white potatoes on April Fool's day. (Sweet potatoes don't go in until the middle of May.)

"I like Superiors, Red Norlands, and Yukon gold, which are yellow. They make you think they have butter already on them," Towner says.

For better germination, he cuts up seed potatoes so there are at least two sprouting eyes to each chunk. Corn planting, too, can begin early in April and keep going until June 1.

"Corn can be planted just before the last frost," notes Addison Chase of Johnny's Selected Seeds, "especially if the seed is treated." Chard, though similar to spinach and lettuce, should not go in until after last frost (which was about April 10 in the Baltimore area).

"If chard gets a frost, it'll bolt when the plant's young," says Towner. Bolting is when the plant goes to seed, which produces tough and bitter leaves.

Beans -- more temperature- sensitive than corn, potatoes and chard -- provoke varying opinions about optimum planting time. Cook's Garden Seeds catalog says its French filet bean, fin de Bagnols, should go in on the frost-free date, while Shepherd's Garden Seeds insists beans will not grow if planted before the air temperature, both day and night, is above 50. Towner agrees.

"I put beans in when the soil temp is 60 degrees," he says, "and 75 degrees for limas. If you put something in too early, you risk the weeds taking them over because they won't grow, [but] the weeds will."

Chase, who considers beans to be as tender as cucumber and melon, (which are planted in late May-June), observes that some beans germinate in cool soil better than others.

"The dark [bean] seeds tend to handle cold soil better," Chase says. "Provider is a cool soil bean."

Seed packets offer guidance, but instructions often lack specifics. Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog says that both its bush Tendergreen, and bush Henderson limas should be planted "after danger of frost," while Burpee's Tenderpick bush beans go in "after all danger of frost and soil has warmed." Select Seeds hides its instructions inside the packets, necessitating an irritating search through the garden books for planting information during garden planning. (I finally ripped open the packet, then had to clothespin it shut.)

For those of us who push the season a bit, there is floating row cover, a gossamer-weight polyester or polypropylene fabric that allows light and water to pass through while helping to retain warmth.

"Floating row cover moves you up a whole planting zone," notes Chase.

Additionally, row cover, which lies directly on the newly seeded bed, is a barrier to predators, especially insects. Remove it when daytime temperatures are consistently over 80 degrees.



1 Foss Hill Road

RR1 Box 2580

Albion, Maine 04910-9731


Fax 800-437-4290


Garden Lane

Fair Haven, Vt. 05743


Fax 803-663-9772

untreated seed for beans, fruits and other vegetables


5100 Schenley Place

Lawrenceburg, Ind. 47025


Fax 812-537-5108

garden supplies including row cover, organic pest controls and fertilizers

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