Spring has Sprung!
What does spring mean to you? Perhaps its green grass, sunny daffodils, baby chicks, chirping birds or rain showers followed by rainbows. In the United States, the first day of spring is determined by the vernal equinox (usually March 20). The equinox marks the day where, based on the earth’s position relative to the sun, there are approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. What does that mean? Longer days! (Even though each day is still 24 hours, the hours of daylight increase until the summer solstice in June.) As daylight hours increase and the temperatures warm, the conditions become perfect for cultivating a garden and nursing young seedlings into mature, fruit-bearing plants. But don’t get in too much of a hurry just yet.
Growing up in the greenhouse industry, I learned early on that the frost-free date for the Charlotte area is April 15. That means that, historically speaking, it is safe to plant tender vegetables and flowers after April 15 with minimal risk of damaging frost. I’ve seen many eager farmers and gardeners plant early, coaxed out by warm, sunny March days or even the tradition of planting on Good Friday. Some years, they are rewarded for hedging their bets with the first ripe veggies at the market—commanding a handsome price for the limited supply. In less fruitful years, their first planting is lost to a “late” freeze, and they lose time and money replanting.
Some veggies are well-suited to early planting. Lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, radishes, turnips, beets and onions can already be in the ground. It’s squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers that can get nipped by a cold snap.
Are you planning to plant a garden this spring? It can require a healthy amount of sweat equity, but the rewards of harvesting food for your meals just steps from the kitchen simply can’t be beat. If you have children, grandchildren or neighborhood children, be sure to invite them to join you in the garden. It’s a wonderland of learning opportunities and most importantly, research suggests that kids who help grow or prepare fresh produce will be more likely to eat those nutrient-rich fruits and veggies. Watch the video, Getting Children to Eat Fresh Produce. Contact your county Cooperative Extension Center for information on the frost-free date in your region and for research-based gardening information.
Don’t forget to find The Produce Lady on Facebook. With the impending harvest of fresh produce, we’ll be sure to share lots of great recipes and look forward to hearing about your favorite dishes, too.