The first two years we were in upstate NY, my neighbor, who is a life long native to this region, would gently tell me that I really couldn't put tomatoes in before Memorial Day. I would be standing in shorts in warm sunshine and be certain he was wrong. Lo and behold! We would get a last hard frost or snow and half of the tomatoes would turn to withered mush! So after doing a lot of research and reading, I have gone back to the old ways. (My brother-in-law thinks I have become a "crunchy granola" - but I can live with that!)
The idea of watching nature for cues about planting is ages old. The Native Americans are said to have told the Pilgrims not to plant corn until the leaves of the oaks were the size of a mouse's ear. The science is called phenology and it is basically the study of plant and animal activities and when they occur each year. The forsythia do not bloom on the same dates every year, nor do the bees start breaking cluster. Watch Nature - She knows.
Some traditional cues:
- Plant cool weather vegetables like peas, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, spinach and lettuces when lilacs begin to show their leaves or daffodils bloom
- When the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear, or elm leaves are the size of a squirrels ear you can plant corn. (Glad there are two choices as I wouldn't know an elm if I ran into it!)
- Broccoli - sow when lilac is in leaf
- Plant peppers when the irises bloom
- Beans, squash and cucumbers may be planted when the lilacs are at the end of their bloom.
- Tomatoes should be planted when the peonies bloom. Another source mentioned when the lily of the valley are in full bloom.
There are simple rules that I have learned:
- Rule one - forget the calender.
- Rule two - trust the natives.
- Rule three - do not plant all of your tomato seedlings as soon as it gets warm. Save some to replace the ones that will get hit by frost because you were over-eager.
- Rule four - plant some of those tomatoes a little earlier than the predicted frost date - you never know - and let's face it - we always plant too many in the little peat pots anyway!
- Rule five - a little mulch, some old sheets and a bit of vigilance can stretch the season just a bit, so try it!
May all your garden experiments be joyful!