I knew the time had come to be brave. It’s mid-May after all and the plants need to be able to withstand the rigors of an Alaskan summer outside of the greenhouse. Besides, I’m getting tired of hauling them in and out. Forty-four flats and six hanging baskets, moved twice a day, is work. My bum knee is protesting all the extra labor. (And I’m not even doing it by myself! My friends and the boys are helping me – or even doing it for me. [Sheesh, what a whiner.]) So where did my bravery (and laziness) lead me? I left several flats out in the cold. I lined them up on the concrete apron before the greenhouse and wrapped row cover around them. The weather is still chilly at night, but it hasn’t really gotten too cold for over a week, at least, not here in our personal micro-climate. So I covered them and went to bed contentedly thinking about all the work I was saving myself.
Walking down the stairs the next morning I could see out the glass door that the lawn was WHITE with frost. Gasp! What!? In mid-May!? Ahhh, my plants!
No Alaskan is surprised. In fact, every Alaskan or former Alaskan reading this is laughing their heads off. We all know this: Don’t. Put. Your. Plants. Out. Until. Memorial DAY! I refer to my previous paragraph for my justification rationalization for doing it anyway. Many of you Alaskans have done the same.
It took me a while to get my courage up and go assess the damages. As I pulled the row cover off the plants the pansies looked up at me like the boys do after surviving some stu… death-defying ride down the hill and screamed “YAAAAAAAHHHHHHH, that was AWESOME! Do it AGAIN!” The scarlet runner beans looked up like girls (who are generally able to think through the consequences of their actions better) with shivering, terrified faces, “I th-th-think we’re o-k-k-kay. Can w-we p-please go back inside now?” The lavender had fallen to its knees and was crawling toward the sun, only to reach it and fall sprawling into its warming glow to soak in the life-giving rays.
The row cover was stiff with ice, but the plants (for all the complaining) were fine. Cold? Yes. Shocked? A bit. But, they’d all survived and as they warmed the runner beans and the lavender perked up. With relief and a bit of glee, I decided that it was time to start putting some of the stuff in the ground. I planted about a third of the lawn border yesterday. So far it contains: nasturtiums, scarlet runner beans, cherry rose sunflowers, white peonies, a dwarf maple, red peonies, white lupine and pink peonies.
Inspired by all my hard work I even planted the pansies into the boxes that will line our retaining walls. I was so into my work that I asked Ben to make dinner (he’d just gotten home from his own job) – I told him I wasn’t hungry and wouldn’t want to eat. (HA!) But, strangely, I finished planting just as dinner was cooked and, sure enough, I was hungry. Thanks for the pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage, Ben. 🙂
Last night, I left several more varieties out (with row cover – I’m not crazy) and will be planting, planting, planting over the next week or two. Yipee!
For all my hyperbole, I knew when I set the plants out that I was risking losing some of them. At the same time, I knew that the row cover would protect the plants from all but the harshest spring freeze. I figured that the runner beans were the most vulnerable and they did fine. The lavender did surprise me with how wilted it looked in the cold, but as I said, it perked up when it got warm. Though I had been thinking about leaving the flats out for a while it wasn’t until I listened to an on-line lecture given by Eliot Coleman that I got brave enough/inspired enough to leave the plants out. I also looked through my Master Gardener textbook for confirmation of what I wanted to do. As long as we are careful about using some sort of protective covering (i.e. row cover fabric, low hoop houses, etc.) we can get the plants in the ground much earlier than conventional wisdom tells us.
For fun: Eliot Colemean is the author of Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Handbook www.fourseasonfarm.com , and an organic farmer from Harborside, Maine, who extensively uses simple, season-extending techniques to harvest and sell organic produce year-round. His books are very interesting and informative; I recommend them if (at the very least) you are interested in learning how to extend your season. They are an excellent read even if you don’t choose to extend your season, but are simply interested in gardening.