The Starter Farm

Planting Limbo

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It is the most unusual time of the year now in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The days are getting longer, the flowering bulbs are emerging and the fruit trees are beginning to flower.  I’m still building a fire at night because I love a fire but I’m cracking a window to keep the room from becoming too warm.  I’m now reaping the benefit of my winter plantings.  I’m enjoying dinners out of the garden even in this late winter period.  The kales and mustards are supplying me daily greens.  Just weeks ago the Fava beans were hit hard with frost and I worried about their survival; now, they are growing and flowering as if winter is a distant memory.   A few trimmings supplied me with tasty sautéed greens with a touch of truffle oil for dinner tonight.  Sprouting broccoli enjoys a quick turn in the pan with crispy garlic and the first shoots of asparagus are poking their heads above ground to be eaten raw.

I’m getting tricked into believing that the main growing season is here.  Can I put tomatoes in now to get a head start?  The frost calendar says that the risk of frost is almost over but I know from experience not to trust it.  Like my cooler weather friends and family, I’ve devoured each seed catalogue that arrived in my waiting mailbox and dreamed of new varietals gracing my summer garden.  These magazines, and I know I am not alone in this, serve as my winter porn and yes, my friends think I’m crazy.  Seeds are ordered and I eagerly await their arrival.  Planted seeds from last year rest under my heat lamps in the garage, which I check hourly for sprouts to emerge.  Yes, I am obsessed and I admit it.  I live in a year round growing zone.  I can only image what my East coast friends and brother in Colorado suffering under blankets of snow are going through.  Summer must seem so far off to them.

I’m getting nervous that the new raised beds are not finished.  Will the plants get in on time?  Will I miss the season?  I’m also worried that I will not have enough room to put everything I want to plant this year even though I’m doubling the space from last year.  I need more room.  How did I become a diagram guy?  I was never this organized.  Cutting flowers like Dahlias, Cosmos, Sunflowers and Zinnias will have their own beds this year with intentions of possible sales in local restaurants if I can bear to part with them.  Do I know what I am getting into?

I’ve convinced myself that time is running out but the reality is there is time.  I’m just getting excited because summer is my favorite vegetable season.  If I could only grow one fruit it would be tomatoes.  So many different flavors, so much reward, that one would never have any idea from the imposters that grace the supermarket shelves.  The nurseries are tempting me too with over anxious displays.  Summer vegetable plants are appearing on shelves like a first hit of gardeners’ crack begging me to take them home even though it’s too early to plant.  Every year they are set out earlier like department stores putting up Christmas displays in September.  It’s just not fair and it’s only February. 

 Growing up in New Jersey the rule of thumb was Mother’s Day was the go ahead to plant.  It escapes me why people chose Mom’s special day but without a hitch you were always safe after this Hallmark designated day to plant to your heart’s content.  I’m not sure she knew, but if she did, my Mother never let on to her knowledge that my annual gift of tomato plants was a selfish act.

Since moving to California, the Mother’s Day rule no longer applies but what new rule applies? Is it April Fools’ Day on the 1st, Hug a Newsman’s Day on the 4th or Look up in the Sky Day on the 14th?  I swear, all real celebrated days, look it up.  Perhaps the best advice was from my local Ace hardware guy when I asked if it was OK to plant the for sale tomato plants in the store.  He said,” You could buy them if you want,’ but under his breath whispered,’ I don’t put anything in till after the 15th of April”.  Perhaps he is waiting for his tax refund?

So there you have it.  More than a month away I have to wait.  Waiting.  Waiting.  But it is so warm right now and I’m itching to plant.  I just have to keep reminding myself, frost kills, frost happens, don’t get fooled again like last year.  I guess I will just have to be happy with my winter veggies, the vegetable starts in my garage and the nightly dreams I have of garden beds overflowing with the treasures that summer brings.  As I write this, a much-needed rain is falling outside washing away winter’s dust and with it will bring more reason to start the season. The danger still exists.  Still I want to plant.




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