5Ws+1H: How It's Done: Frigid temps bane of early-season gardeners, but there's hope

A variety of greens like spinach, collards and kale can start to be planted around mid-March, at the earliest late February, depending on whether another hard frost could come in.

Hopefully most local residents didn’t try planting their cool-season crops early this year, as the recent winter storm likely wiped them out. But it won’t be too much longer before growers can begin planting spring vegetables.

Gardeners could start germinating their vegetable seeds indoors if they want, though, said Garrett Ford, agriculture educator for the Cherokee County OSU Cooperative Extension Service.

“If you’ve got an indoor growing space, a greenhouse, or if you’ve just got a big kitchen window, starting seeds indoors is definitely something that you could be working on right now, in anticipation of being able to put them out once we clear our chances of getting the last frost,” said Ford.

Around early to mid-March, people can start planting cold-weather vegetables. A variety of hardy greens – like spinach, collards, and kale – can withstand frigid temperatures. Carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, onions and other veggies can also fare well in the cool season. Many of those types of plants can start to be harvested around late April or early May.

“It also depends on the variety of spinach, kale or whatever it is,” said Ford. “Oftentimes, if they’re a specific cultivar of spinach, there is a date to maturity you can find anytime you’re ordering seeds or if you’re buying seeds. They will tell you how long it will take before you can actually harvest it.”

The earliest a gardener might want to start growing cool-season crops is the last week of February, or perhaps the first week of March, said Ford. Much of it depends on the type of operations a gardener has.

“If you’ve got high tunnels or any type of structure that goes over your beds to generate a little added warmth, then it doesn’t hurt to start now,” Ford. “But if you don’t have that, you sure don’t want to have anything in the ground.”

While it appears the worst of the recent snow storm is over, farmers know Oklahoma weather can be difficult to predict. So there is still a chance the area will receive another hard frost before things really start to warm up. If a gardener sees an impending frost headed his way, he can use bed sheets or plastic sheets to cover up plants.

Ford said people want to cover up their plants 30 minutes before sundown, and to take the sheets off no later than 30 minutes after sunrise.

“You’re trying to trap in as much of that ground heat as you can,” he said. “As the sun is on the ground during the day, at night that heat radiates back up out of the ground. So if you’ve got a sheet or plastic over it, that heat gets trapped up underneath that plastic and it creates a warm microclimate around your plants.”

For those wanting to start seedlings, Ford recommends they go through a certified seed supplier.

“If you’re going to get your bang for your buck, I think it’s worth ordering seed from a business where all they do is produce seeds,” he said. “They’ll tell you the germination percentage on the seeds. They rate them at a percentage of success, whereas your store-bought packet of seeds that you’ll find at big box stores don’t have a germination rating guarantee on that seed. So you might get a pack of seeds with 50 in it and only five of them are actually viable.”

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