The mild winter that we are having here in the mid-Atlantic region has got my green thumb a itchin’ and I couldn’t wait any longer. Sure, we’re still struggling with frost here (and will be for some time), but at least we’re not like those guys in Anchorage. I heard they were dealing with -50. Well, at least it’s a dry cold (or is it?). While I’m happy to say that I don’t have to deal with those temps, I still have to be protective of my little babies that I still haven’t planted yet. So, I thought I’d share some quick tips for growing in coldish weather. Of course, if you have a heated greenhouse then there may be no reason to read this at all…
Tips for Growing Plants in Coldish Weather
1. Pick your plants
If you’re a first timer or have a desire to go all gung-ho because it’s 50 outside, stop and let reason take over for a sec. It’s only February – we still have plenty of cold coming and some plants won’t make it, period. Don’t even consider tomatoes or peppers; it’s just foolishness. They’re warm weather plants and they won’t stand a chance. However, you can find quite a long list of plants that do well in cold and cool weather, especially greens and plants known as brassicas. Brassicas, sometimes known as cole crops, include plants like cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens and kohlrabi among others. I know – not often the favorites of the wee ones (and many adults), but they grow great in this weather. For me, I’m planting a couple of varieties of lettuce, radishes, carrots, onions, and a couple of herbs (no not that kind) – rosemary, fennel, and basil. Admittedly they do need to be kept in a warmer environment, but I can keep them inside until it’s warm enough to plant outside in the herb garden.
2. Start them inside
Recently I picked up some new seed starter flats, as mine had cracked beyond use. For about $8 I got a 72-plot seed starter from Burpee. They have a great system with a small peat-like pellet that when hydrated fills up the entire plot, making it a lot less messy. After the plot hydrates, it’s happy planting time. Start them inside to protect them from the crazy weather that is inevitable in early February, and allow them to establish good roots before you put them in the garden bed.
3. Hide from the wind
Late winter and early spring winds can be fierce for sure. If you haven’t yet laid out a garden, try to find an area that is protected from the wind, as much as you can at least. My previous garden was blocked by a garage and fences, which helped young plants get a little stronger without a fighting a gale.
4. Hoop, there it is!
Sorry, I couldn’t resist; it was too easy to say it here. A great way to start plants early in the season if you don’t have a greenhouse is to put them under a hoop house. One of the raised beds I built last year is equipped with a hoop house kit. Of course I made that myself and it is supported by 1 1/2 “ PVC pipe screwed into each corner. I know, really technical. Hoop house frames can be made of nearly anything. I bent my 1/2” PVC pipes into a half-hoop, then just stretched plastic over the top and stapled it to the raised bed. Cheap and simple just like me… no, wait, I didn’t mean that! The hoop house acts as a mini, disposable, portable greenhouse and does a great job protecting tender growing plants in the cool weather. If you plan it out right, you can actually grow three seasons of crops – early spring, summer, and fall – in the same place. That’s pretty good eating!