The Daily Southerner
What signs do you look for to indicate the beginning of spring – golden daffodils dancing in the breeze, spring peepers filling the air with music, or maybe the sight of honey bees visiting the fragrant winter honeysuckle in your neighbor’s yard?
For me, the vibrant splash of red along our roadway and ditch banks give me the first indication that spring is near. Contrary to what many might think, that amazing burst of life is not new foliage, but instead is an abundance of delicate red maple flowers.
These visual cues often trigger a new season in the Filbrun household as my family and I unveil seed collected from last year’s bounty and await the arrival of new seed varieties in the mail. As with many avid gardeners, the temptation is to begin planting immediately; however, it is important to let the soil temperature be your guide.
One valuable resource to help you is the Rocky Mount Station of the State Climate Office of North Carolina (http://www.nc-climate.ncsu.edu/cronos/?station=ROCK).
A search under “Soil Parameters” will reveal that the current average soil temperature is 48 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, it is safe to consider direct seeding beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, onions, garden peas, Irish potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips into your 2011 vegetable garden.
Assuming that you have received your soil test results and have made the necessary adjustments, there are a number of other soil factors that are important for your seeds to take off. The soil should be worked to a fine texture with uniform consistency so that the seed makes good contact with the soil particles without excessive voids and air pockets. Follow the recommendations on the seed packet, as each vegetable often has different depth and spacing requirements. Remember the smaller the seed the more shallow it should be planted; a general rule of thumb suggests a suitable planting depth is usually about two to four times the minimum diameter of the seed.
One common question surrounds how you go about sowing those tiny seeded varieties. It is best to sow these seeds thinly and uniformly in rows by gently tapping the packet of seed.
At planting, the seed has a low oxygen requirement; however, as germination occurs, oxygen demand increases and a loose, well aerated soil provides the ideal environment. The seed must first absorb water and then have an adequate and continuous supply of moisture for the embryo to develop properly. Temperature works in concert with the moisture level to affect germination percentage and rate. As implied above, each species has a minimum, maximum and ideal soil temperature for best germination.
If you are new to gardening, start small; try a container planted with your favorite vegetable placed on your stoop or patio. Fill the container with a good quality potting soil and sow any of the cool season vegetable seeds mentioned above. After you have harvested the produce, simply remove the plant and plant a warm season vegetable in its place. A little effort will reward you many fold.
Bob Filburn is an Edgecombe County Extension Service agent specializing in horticulture. Look for his Garden Guide each month on the Community page.