Warmer Weather Gives Piedmont Gardeners The Green Light
Springtime in the Piedmont has been a real rollercoaster ride for local gardeners this year with temperatures 10-15 degrees below normal, and cold snaps near freezing even in late April. The recent shift to warmer weather patterns has many anxious green thumbs wondering, “Is now a safe time to plant?”
WFDD’s David Ford found fertile ground for answers in Apple & Green City Farm Co-Owner Matt Mayers.
Is now the time to plant, and if so, given the late date, are there any special precautions that gardeners should be aware of?
It’s pretty much safe to plant any warm-season thing now. That would be tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, summer and winter squash, stuff like that. And yes, in terms of precautions, a lot of people don't necessarily have the luxury of putting plants on the ground exactly when they want to—you know, what time of day and all that. Plants don't like to be put in the ground when it's really hot. So, one of the things that I do when I don't have the choice—you know, because I've had to do something else early on in the morning or later in the day—I take either a watering can or a hose with me, and I literally put a plant in the ground and water it within about one second of having its roots covered, and it reduces that transplant shock quite a lot. It's really helpful.
Once they’re in the ground, how do you protect the new plants from baking in the hot sun?
Well, you need watering more frequently the first few weeks, especially when things are newly transplanted. You want to make sure that they don't dry out. We water up things about three times. You know, once right when they go in [the ground] and then, depending on the weather, another say one, two, or three times over the course of the next week or so. And usually that's enough to get them to where their little feeder roots are pretty well established and have penetrated into the soil. Also, a lot of plants would like a little bit of mulch around them. That modulates the temperature fluctuations and it also modulates the humidity fluctuations. So, put a transplant into the ground, give it a fair amount of water, and, if you’ve also put some mulch around it –like especially straw or shredded leaves – then it reduces the need to water. And it reduces the need to weed.
How about another tip for the novice gardener, and one for the experienced green thumb?
Sure. I think most first time gardeners or relatively inexperienced gardeners bite off more than they can chew. So, have a look at what you want to do—what you think is a reasonable amount to undertake in terms of space and how much time you want to spend at this—and then cut that in half. Because, you can always do more next year. So, just grow the things that you love, that you notice the most difference when you get them fresh—say, at a farmer’s market—as opposed to imported from another state or country. For me, that would be salad greens and broccoli that you grow yourself.
And for the seasoned gardener? One thing that I don't see very many people doing that I think is extremely effective is for any of the cabbage or broccoli family plants, what some people call “cole crops.” Those are all really susceptible to getting little green worms on them. Those worms are the larval stage of the little white moth that you see fluttering around your garden all summer. They lay their eggs almost exclusively on brassica plants, and then they start off as these little teeny tiny worms that you can barely see. And they eventually grow to one that can be almost as big as your pinky finger. We don't spray anything at our garden, so we needed to come up with a way that was more effective and more reasonable than spending our lives picking worms off the plants.
So, what I discovered is you can buy a bolt of tulle fabric—a 150-foot roll of the stuff about nine feet wide costs about $25. It's the stuff that make ballerina's tutus out of – a very fine mesh. It’s very lightweight, doesn't hold in any heat, and doesn't keep out any water or really any light. And so, you take whatever size you need, drape it over [the plant], and weigh down the edges with rocks or bricks or something like that. And the little moths can't get to the plants to lay their eggs. And if you leave enough loose [material], the plants will push it up as they grow taller and you can have nice, worm-free broccoli that way.
(Ed.: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.)