Back in the day, it was almost unheard of for gardeners, of both the edible and ornamental variety, to get their plants into the ground any other way than direct seeding. Exceptions were cole crops, such as cabbage, and others started with sets, i.e. onions.
Even things that were planted when the weather was still cold, such as English peas, were started with seeds. Then there were also spinach, radishes and a few others that could stand some cold.
Everything else was sown directly in the ground once the weather had become “warm and settled” as it was often described. Make no mistake about it, despite a few days of possible warmth, the weather is not yet warm and settled. It might not be until late April or May.
I knew an excellent truck farmer, who raised enough vegetables to feed his family with a lot left for selling or giving away. He told me he seldom planted much of his crop until May, but then rotated crops for the rest of the growing season, planting something different immediately as one crop was harvested. He probably got as much production as his neighbor who would plant everything too early and have to repeat plant as frost or other devilment reduced the early plantings to compost.
A nurseryman told me once that when a few freak warm days occurred in March everybody started demanding tomato plants. He would gladly sell them some, with the caveat they might turn blue with cold. He was seldom wrong, and he said he was glad they wanted the plants because he figured he would sell two or three times the number after early plantings froze.
All that to say this. Hold your horses, as my mother would say. Don’t be old Mister Can’t Wait. Wait for that “warm and settled weather” we talked about.
This is especially true for those tomato plants and other tropical plants that are treated as annuals in our climate. As for seed-sown things, this goes for such as zinnias, salvias, field peas, squash, cosmos, nasturtiums, morning glories, etc. There is a plethora more of warm weather lovers that must have heat to do anything at all.
I asked a little girl when spring was going to be here. She said when Mr. So-and-So across the street planted his garden, and it froze, then he planted it again and it froze again, then he planted it again and it grew, she knew it was spring.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Plant seeds when the leaves of an oak tree are as big as a mouse’s ear.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.