Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Spring Fever

Minnie Hatz headshotEarly March brought warm temperatures to the front range. I have my garden plowed. The grass is showing green shoots. Stores have racks of seeds and the nurseries even have trees and shrubs. Why not plant garden early?

Having lived here most of my life, I have learned to read some signs. One of the first signs of spring is the cranes going north. They usually proceed weather changes by about 6 weeks. How­ever, unless I am outside and hear their purring call as they fly high overhead, I can miss that sign. Another reliable sign is the ice being completely off the lakes and reservoirs. This sign seems to hold true throughout the country. The freeze will not go out of the ground and allow plowing until the ice is off the water.

Late winter snow
Piles of late winter snow. 

The ice is off the water, but I am still waiting, for quite a while yet. The home improvement stores that carry nursery stock may not tell you, but the businesses that are strictly nurseries often have signs posted that the last average freeze date is May 15! A couple of years ago we had a mas­sive blizzard on St. Pats. I have seen similar blizzards in the first week of May. Granted, the snow doesn’t last long, but it can certainly freeze a garden.

A friend of mine bought a blooming fruit tree for a head start. A late freeze killed the blossoms, and the tree so even nursery stock isn’t yet safe.

I will likely hold off until that last average date or even later if the weather should be cool. This can complicate life as the end of the growing season can be as early as Labor day. I usually opt for 75 to 80 day corn and about 50 day tomatoes. Almost everyone who grows tomatoes here can tell stories of getting NO ripe tomatoes because the frost came before they could ripen.

I am day dreaming as I look at the seed catalog. But, I see the racks of seeds in the store at this time of year as strictly marketed for those who are going to start seeds inside. Likewise the garden plants and perennials are marketed for those who can place the plants in a greenhouse, garage or barn and care for them until a warmer day.

Dream harvest
Vegetables that I dream about in spring. 

When I do get the plants ready for planting, I usually place them in my little red wagon and pull it out in the sun on nicer spring days but pull it back in at sundown. The wind is a real factor along the front range so it is also important to place new plants on the lee side of a building or hedge so they will not be whipped dry by the wind.

By toughing up my tomato plants and other tender greenhouse grown plants for a week or more, I expect to have nearly 100% survival.

Unlike folks in some areas, I cannot count on having spring rains. This also helps determine the planting schedules. I must be prepared to water seeds and plants if the rains do not come. The need for water is so certain, that I am getting my garden set up on a timer with automatic valves. Of course, once I turn the water into the irrigation system, I don’t want to have to drain it nor do I want it to freeze. So even with spring fever, 70 degree days, and green shoots in the planting around here for a couple of months