The precipitous drop in temperature Tuesday morning topped discussions this week. That would have not been the case had there not been 80-degree temperatures last week. After all, there's nothing unusual about freezing temperatures in March. Still, it was cold -- so cold that my neighbor's pink flamingoes turned blue.
The other immediately noticeable outcome was the blasting of blossoms on early blooming magnolias. By mid-morning on Tuesday, the flowers hung from the twigs like wet mini-dishrags. This, too, is not unusual, since the bloom period of these magnolias in most years ends abruptly due to frost, though typically in late April or early May.
Most plants that I examined this morning (Tuesday) showed little or no harm from the hard freeze. However, it often takes a day or two, or even weeks, before symptoms of cold injury become apparent. So, be patient.
Here are some weekend tasks for the impatient gardener:
- Use bio-degradable pots for starting seeds of plants that do not respond well to transplanting. Start seed and grow the seedling in the same pot, then set out pot with plant into the garden at the appropriate time. Some plants that do not transplant well are annual phlox, lupine, morning glory, nasturtium, poppy, toadflax (Linaria), cucumber, squash, pumpkin, chervil, dill and fennel. Bio-degradable pots are made from peat, wood fiber, paper and even manure.
- Don't cover seeds of the following plants when sowing indoors: dill, lettuce, parsley, savory, ageratum, begonia, bellflower (Campanula), browallia, coleus, columbine, Coreopsis, feverfew, flowering tobacco, Gaillardia, impatiens, petunia, Oriental poppy, salvia, snapdragon, stock, and sweet alyssum. These seeds will germinate more quickly if exposed to some light.
- Start tomatoes indoors this weekend. Plant a beefsteak variety of tomato for slicing and for juice, a plum type for canning, sauce, and roasting, and a cherry type for salads.
- Begin planting dormant trees and shrubs, since soils are frost-free and workable. Consider planting some native woody species. Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a good choice. Native to eastern United States, this multi-stemmed shrub slowly grows to a height of 5 to 10 feet and a width of 3 to 5 feet. The most outstanding features are its attractive fall foliage color and brilliant red berries that persist into early winter. Another plus for this shrub is its adaptability to just about any kind of soil. A great local source for this and other native plants is Project Native on North Plain Road in Housatonic.
Speaking of local, are you a locavore? That sounds like some creature from Jurassic Park. Actually, it was the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2007 Word of the Year and is a term applied to the movement encouraging consumers to buy foods grown locally or to grow their own food. Berkshire resident Amy Cotler played a key role in advancing the movement with the publication of her book, "The Locavore Way."
Obviously, it's not a new concept, just a new term applied to the notion that knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown has some distinct advantages, such as freshness, safety, and better taste. To many people, that's not incentive enough to be a locavore. However, given the steadily rising price of food, the time seems ripe for growing some of our own food.
I've been a locavore all of my life as I've been eating home grown fruits and vegetables since day one. The skills I use in food gardening I learned from my father and from trial and error. I encourage all who have some skill and experience in growing fruits and vegetables to share that knowledge with those who have not experienced the satisfaction of eating food grown at home.