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Hartselle Enquirer

Goodbye winter, hello spring

After three months of a mild winter season, spring has arrived. Trees, grass and ornamental plants are fast becoming a sea of green.

Those of us who relish spending time outdoors planting and growing flowers and vegetables can be seen frequently visiting stores that stock plant food, mulch, insect repellents and flower and vegetable seed and plants.

It’s hard to resist digging in the soil and putting seed and plants in the ground. However,  Easter is yet to come and a remnant of winter weather continues to be a possibility. Seasoned gardeners know it’s wiser to be a bit late than too early when planting vegetables like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers. Old timers say a good rule of thumb is to hold off until after the season’s last frost.

The weather is expected to nuke a significant drop later this week with lows in the mid- to upper 30s. That’s cold enough for a killing frost. I look to flowers on blackberry vines for a good sign that spring weather is here to stay.

I got the itch to put something under the ground in February and settled on red potatoes. I prepared a good seed bed and planted them under about five or six inches of ground cover.

Heavy rains followed and we had two days when temperatures never rose above freezing. That’s all it took to kill most of them before they had a chance to take root.

Springtime was the busiest season of the year when I was a boy growing up on a family farm in East Central Alabama.

My father was a produce grower and a stickler for being the first peddler to market with locally grown sweet corn, tomatoes and cantaloupes. To reach his goal, he would make an agreement with a neighbor landowner to clear a one to two-acre new ground in the winter in return for its use rent-free the next spring. One of the stipulations was that it was a well-drained hillside facing the east.

We’d prepare the ground for planting in February and plant watermelon seed in rows six feet a part in March. Tomato plants and cantaloupes were planed at about the same time.

To help them survive frosts, we’d cover them with pine straw and return the next day to uncover them.

The extra work it took to get the jump on frost paid off.  We were able to fetch top dollar for our early maturing vegetables and when the market went flat, we’d feed them to our hogs.

Clif Knight is a staff writer for the Hartselle Enquirer.

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