Getting a Head Start on The Season

It’s February 10,2011, and we’re about a month away from our last official “freeze” date. But, it’s been a mild winter this year and I’ve decided to get a head start on the season by planting out some of my “cool weather” crops and constructing a row cover to protect them from chilly, nighttime weather.

Now, I know that all of the books say to wait until the danger of frost has passed, and the baby brassica shows at least 3-4 true leaves before you start planting out, but I’ve also been reading about ways to extend the season by making use of man-made objects to “trick” the plants into thinking it’s okay for them to get started a little early.

These brassicas don’t even have one set of true leaves yet (I can see the buds developing), but they got off to a good start : first indoors, where they sprouted in the warmth of a consistent temperature, and then basked in the filtered sun of a windowsill; next, they were transferred outdoors, under the protection of a cold frame (lined with chicken manure to heat things up a bit) –there they remained for about two weeks, getting acclimated to the cooler outdoor weather, being exposed to the raw air and sunshine during the day, and protected from any wind, cold or frost at night.  I would have left them to continue growing in the cold frame for another month, when they were truly supposed to be planted out; however, as my indoor seedlings multiplied and I began losing space in my windowsill for newly sprouted flowers and veggies, I decided there was only one solution: the cold frame brassicas were going to either sink or swim planted out into a newly cultivated raised bed, under the protection of a row cover.

Yesterday, I carefully planted out as many of the brassicae as the bed would hold, spacing them about 12-inches apart in a 2-1-2 pattern (I also interplanted a few seeds of dill, calendula, and thyme to grow up alongside the brassicas and bring beneficial insects – to, hopefully, keep cabbage moths away from the plot).  Then, I took a portion of wire fencing that is a little longer and wider than the bed and staked it around the sides to create a type of dome over the bed.  Finally, I cut sheets of clear plastic (the type that painter’s use) to lay on top of the wire dome and cover the bed completely.  The sun was just going down as I finished the task, and I said a little prayer, asking God to protect my little seedlings (knowing the temperatures were going to be down in the freezing range that night).

About 10:00 this morning, I ventured my way out to the plot (after tossing some old salsa on top of another plot that’s waiting to become a raised bed for the next set of brassicae).  I really wasn’t sure what I was going to find.  Was it too cold last night for the little ones to make it?  I slowly lifted the sheet of clear plastic and pushed it off to one side of the wire dome and looked to find the first seedling perfectly fine…just as I’d left it yesterday!  I scanned the rest of the bed too see how the remainder of the seedlings had come through the wintery night.  If they could talk, I think they would’ve all said, with a smile on their faces, “All present and accounted for!”  I smiled to myself and thanked God for answering my little prayer.  I think we’re off to a great start this season!

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