By Sarah O'Neil
There is only one thing standing between us and spring – August! How inconvenient. The weather seems warmer, we haven’t had a frost in a few weeks. Ok so there has been a bit of rain – we can chose to ignore that, once it drains away and the lawn no longer makes a squishy noise as you walk across it. Having said that, if the lawn does make a squishy noise when you walk across it you should avoid doing so as you may compact your soil and damage it for quite some time to come.
There are daffodils appearing in gardens all over the place and the first plucky blossoms are making themselves known. The sap is rising and gardeners everywhere are scratching their itchy green fingers in anticipation of the new season. And it should be an awesome one as last spring was terrible so we are owed it.
There is a huge temptation to drag out the seed tins and feel the delight of tearing open new seed packets and breathe in the excitement of seeing those tiny little seeds that hold within them the hope of a new season, an abundance of tomatoes and zucchini, oh so many zucchini. The taste and crunch of a fresh cucumber immediately springs to mind as their teardrop shaped seeds are gently handled.
But I feel I must be the party pooper, the bearer of bad news and pull the plug on such frivolity before we get too carried away. It is fine to look in this last month of winter, but please, don’t touch. It is still winter and it is still too early, no matter how nice it feels when you are out of the wind and the sun comes out momentarily to warm your weary bones.
The thing is, each plant has their own personal preferences that have no consideration to the wants and desires of a gardener deprived of what makes them happy for months on end. Beans like the soil to be 18°C and will rot in anything that is colder and damp. Tomatoes turn purple in the cold, like a child who has been in a swimming pool too long. Cucumbers and the rest of their clan will sulk if the conditions aren’t to their liking – i.e. warm, and may even expire from the effort of trying to stay alive. The first frost free date is generally around Labour Weekend in October and this the time that makes most summer plants happy.
Planting things into the garden before this is foolhardy as your plants will be too busy trying to cope and never really do well. Plants planted at the right time, will soon overtake any supposed gains that were hoped for by starting early, and will thrive and bring you a much more abundant harvest.
In the past I have thought, “But it is warm inside and I have a greenhouse, so they will be fine to start early.” But not this early. Lessons have been learnt! Before you know it you end up with leggy plants trying to fruit in tiny pots, and you can’t put them out until the risk of frost has gone. This then becomes a wasted effort and on time plants once again do better on the day.
So pay close attention to the writing on the back of the seed packet or attached to the punnet of seedlings. This is all information worthy of being there. The good people who prepare the seeds and seedlings for you really do know what they are talking about. Their dates are pretty spot on.
Trying to get a jump on the season can end up being counterproductive, although I did have to try it and see. I’m the kind of person who likes to learn the hard way. Having said that there are seeds that can be grown in August – peppers benefit from a head start, but make sure they stay at around 22°C for the best chance of success. Brassicas don’t mind the cold, and some leafy greens… Just check out the back of the seeds packets before reaching for the seed raising mix.