Story last updated at 4/25/2012 - 11:31 am
The time has come! Tiny seedlings in small trays are shooting up toward artificial lights in the homes of gardening enthusiasts all over Southeast Alaska as fickle spring weather triggers the planting instinct. Signs of spring abound with pussy willows flaunting their fuzzy, silver catkins, bursts of bright yellow skunk cabbage dotting roadside ditches and temperatures near 50 degrees F daytimes with alternating snow, rain, hail and sunshine throughout the days.
Robins hop right past emerging tulips as they scour lawns and tilled beds for savory earthworms. Rough-skinned newts have returned to the little water filled ditch along a dirt road where I look for signs of their migration as early as February for another confirmation spring's arrival. This year newts were sighted about three weeks earlier than last year. All these seasonal indicators are excuse enough for optimistic gardeners to initiate some course of action.
This year I've actually managed my spring seed starting frenzy with a sensible schedule based on a realistic timetable. There's no sense hoping that conditions for tender, young transplants will be warm enough in my greenhouse-film covered hoop house in early April when mid-May is more probable. Unless one is able to provide adequate space, heat and lighting, starting plants too early inside may only result in stressed, stunted plants when temperatures are finally right for transplanting to the greenhouse. Meanwhile plants started later and set out at the same time, even though smaller, may take off and grow more vigorously than the older plants.
There's really no hoping that the small, delicate zucchini will somehow not notice it's still too cold for healthy growth. To avoid the transplanting burden that accompanied my previous excessive optimism, I'm waiting weeks longer this year before starting beans, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini and other plants that tend to grow fast indoors. Even with adequate indoor lights, transplanting too many times can be hard on some plants.
Tomatoes fall into this category of course but to me they're worth the extra effort of an early start, especially since ripening on the vine is desired. Even though they grow quickly and require lots of heat and light to thrive, I make space for a few early tomatoes under lights and already have a couple of plants sporting flowers. It may be frivolous considering the electric rates but since I happen to have a solarium attached to the house that stays much warmer than the hoop house, I'll be able to take them off artificial lights early. The majority of my tomato seedlings are only about five inches tall.
Plants need space to grow and breathe and although it's tempting to grow every last seedling no matter how many, overcrowding is not desirable. This year I hope to remember that as my solarium fills up although I suppose I'm already undermining that resolve with the thirty tomatoes. By the time I add the peppers, cucumbers and hanging baskets of flowers, hard facts concerning space limitations will need to be faced. Sad but true.
Out in my hoop house, radishes, spinach, garlic and a few beets are up with carrots and lettuce hopefully popping up soon this first week of April. In the open gardens outside, rhubarb has been growing right up through the snow for a few weeks now and the raspberry buds hold beautiful possibilities.
What an exciting time of year! Gardening season is upon us with all the wonderful hours of tending and harvesting to look forward to once again. All we need now is a little more of that scarce Southeast Alaska sunshine and let the good times roll.