It’s May. Tulips are blooming, the scent of lilacs fills the air.
And how are our gardens growing? Well, maybe, they’re not.
For many home gardeners, this spring has been challenging, as the weather has swung from sunny and 70s to gray and rainy with threats of overnight frosts. If you’re like me, you’ve watched small healthy starts of spinach, kale, broccoli, and other “cool weather” crops droop and die overnight.
“It can be challenging when you have a lot of days with temperatures that won’t get above the low 50s,” said Charles Holub, of Scotch Ridge Berry Farm, one of several Saratoga Farmers’ Market vendors who sell vegetable and herb seedlings. “There’s not a whole lot you can do, except be patient.”
Creating gardens in a region with a short growing season often means gardeners must start seedlings indoors until soil temperatures are above 60 degrees. But starting seedlings requires space, sunny windows, and frequent watering – all of which take up time. Several Saratoga Farmers’ Market vendors make that job easier by selling seedlings that they’ve started in greenhouses or under high tunnels.
Still, these seedlings also are vulnerable to the cold.
“We always advise people to watch the forecasts carefully, especially at this time of year,” said Chris Dumar, of Balet Flowers & Design. “If you think there’s going to be a frost, cover your plants, or even if they’re in containers, put them under something like a picnic table to protect them.” Dumar also recommends an old farmer’s trick: Spray frosted plants with water before the sun hits the leaves.
Steve Otrembiak of Otrembiak Farm encourages gardeners who purchase seedlings not to rush to transplant. Wait until the time is right. For tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and other hot weather crops, that time is early June. For cooler crops, May can be optimal – unless a cold spell is in the forecast.
Otrembiak also says letting seedlings develop a strong root system before transplanting them will help them survive. He picked up a potted herb, tapped the bottom and flipped the pot over, removing the plant and the soil around it. At the base was a thick webbing of roots. “That’s what we like to see when we transplant,” he said.
The Saratoga Farmers’ Market is at High Rock Park, 3-6 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.