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Food For Thought

These teases of warm weather have gardeners and bees alike yearning for spring.
It's a good time to reflect on the importance of the present moment. In a few weeks, we'll all be busy bees with too much to do to waste time wanting for what is not. Anyway, the daffodils, still hiding their cheerful yellow faces, are letting us know in no uncertain terms that spring will be later than it was last year.
While the bees brave this cool weather to forage on blushing red maple buds and tiny purple henbit flowers, gardeners and farmers are powerless against the urge to awaken tender plants from their slumber, nestled inside lifeless-looking seeds. Some need soaking, some require scoring; others can just be scattered on the soil surface and lightly misted. Some will burst through the testa (seed coat) after only a day, whereas others will dally for weeks—which seems endless.
Once the tiny plants start their journey toward the sun, they need tender, loving care. In a greenhouse or on your window sill, they must have bright light or they will be become lanky and weak, to ultimately flop over and shrivel. But don't let them get too warm or you risk the soil getting too hot and scorching their tender roots. The growing medium must retain adequate moisture, but don't over-water, which can cause damping-off, lanky growth, and mildew.
Seedlings from seeds sown directly in the garden must fend for themselves from the beginning. Some lightweight row cover can help them along, but if you cover with plastic, be sure to remove it on sunny days—even cold sunny days—otherwise the plants will bake.
Carrots, beets, and other hardy Viridiplantae babies seem to appreciate row cover directly on the soil after sowing. The thin air space between the soil surface and row cover creates a high-humidity buffer that is a little warmer than the air temperature, preventing soil crusting and encouraging strong germination. The plants will push the row cover up as they grow, and the row cover can provide protection from pests looking for a spring feast.
Intrepid growers already have some seed potatoes and onion sets out. Some just couldn't resist seeding a round of root crops and hardy greens, like arugula, lettuce, and kale. Many are chomping at the bit to start tomatoes. I'm holding off for another week or so. I definitely heard thunder in February, which, I've been told, means frost in May. I don't want to end up with giant, leggy tomato plants by the end of April, a situation which contributed to a lack-luster tomato harvest on our farm last year.
If you haven't turned your soil yet, or even bought your seeds, fret not. You have ample time.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is an independent seed company offering many unique varieties specifically suited to growing in the humid heat of Southern summers. 'Louisiana Purple Pod' pole beans are a favorite of mine—productive whether it's hot and dry or comparatively cool and wet, always a stunning purple with great crunch and sweet taste. This variety is also open-pollinated, so it's easy to save your own seeds. Just let some pods dry on the vine, harvest, clean, and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
FedCo is another fantastic source for GM-free seed. With low prices and a staggering inventory, they offer something for everyone. As a cooperative, they offer seeds from many independent producers, constantly working to improve their varieties and to create new varieties specifically for the home garden and direct-to-consumer growers. A huge proportion of our yearly seed order comes from FedCo.
For my tomato-obsessed compatriots, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Company has no comparison. With literally hundreds of open-pollinated and heirloom tomato varieties of every color, shape, and taste to peruse, you'll have a hard time putting down their eye-popping catalog. They also offer a large selection of unique vegetables, collected from around the world.
The cusp of spring is a time tinged with reflection, yearning, grand optimism, and colorful seed catalogs. Surely, this will be a year with just enough, but not too much rain, no vine borers or imported cabbage worms, immaculate weedless rows, and absolutely no early blight.


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