Leslie Cox and her dog, Sadie, are thrilled that spring is upon us. Photo supplied.

Leslie Cox and her dog, Sadie, are thrilled that spring is upon us. Photo supplied.

DUCHESS OF DIRT: Patience a key when considering how early to plant biennial vegetables

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

By the time you read this, spring will have arrived.

Yay! I have never been so excited for spring as I have this year it seems. I probably say this every year because I cannot wait to get out in the garden in earnest after the long winter months.

But somehow, this year’s arrival of the spring equinox feels different. More euphoric. It could be because we did not get to enjoy the usual family gatherings which ease us through the winter season. That was tough. But we were not the only sufferers. Millions have been in the same boat. Even our sweet, people-loving dog, Sadie has suffered, judging by the moaning she now does in her sleep on a regular basis.

Hard to believe we have celebrated the first anniversary of B.C.’s COVID-19 initial lockdown. Who knew 12 months ago we would still be gripped in the talons of this pandemic? I sure didn’t. But I feel more positive now the vaccination program is underway and spring has officially arrived in the garden.

There was a dark period brought on by the nonsense in the United States and, in a fit of desperation, I started some seeds indoors. I tried to be responsible and stick to the cool weather hardy varieties…kale, spinach, Swiss chard, some lettuce…but insanity struck and I sowed some tomatoes too. My excuse was testing seed viability as most of the tomatoes were older seed. But I should have done the germination tests the conventional way.

Yup. You had to know it. Most of the tomato varieties were still viable seeds. One variety had a germination rate of 50 per cent, another was 67 per cent. The rest came in at 90 to 100 per cent. Thank goodness I only did one tray of tomatoes!

On the upside, I sure have made John happy. He is the tomato fanatic in the family and I have caught him in the laundry room several times, standing in front of the grow light shelves admiring the plants. Especially since they have been moved up into 4-inch pots. I think I am in trouble! It is going to be 2 months before they can be transplanted into the greenhouse.

Note to self: Do not repeat this tomato germination stunt next year!

Actually, looking at the other seeds I sowed last month, they will be ready to be transplanted outside in the vegetable garden reasonably soon. And that could be a conundrum. Is the weather going to co-operate?

Swiss chard, kale, spinach and several other vegetables are biennial, meaning they grow vegetatively in the first season and flower to set seed in the second season. This need to go through a cold winter in order to set seed is called vernalization.

And there is the rub. Our region is one of the few in Canada that can have mild weather at the end of winter and then experience cold, winter-like conditions in early spring. Cold enough to trigger vernalization in our early biennial crop plantings. (I will never forget the two springs we had hail on April 23 and on April 30.)

If you have not jumped the sowing schedule timeline too early and your young biennial seedlings are still small, they will likely not be tricked into vernalization. But anything with a tall enough stem to support several leaves is likely to be tricked into bolting in its first season.

Keep an eye on the weather and be ready with your row covering materials if the forecast is heading below 5 C for a few days. FYI… last April, we recorded a total of 21 days of temperatures below 5 C in our garden. Good luck!

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca

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