First signs of spring
By Clif Knight
A lot can be written about the first signs of spring when it comes to predicting when spring weather will arrive in North Alabama.
Of course, winter is still here and only the warm sunshiny days of April and May can change that. However, the longest day of darkness has come and gone. It’s possible to read a newspaper outside at 5 p.m. Soon, with the addition of Daylight Savings Time, we’ll be able to extend our outdoor workday two more hours.
Plants that have a high tolerance for cold weather are also making their presence known. The yellow bells in our flowerbeds are six inches high and soon will be in bloom. Forsythia is full of yellow blooms and our backyard Bradford pear tree is beginning to bud and will be in full bloom within a month.
Weather permitting, it’s also time to do some early plowing in the garden and planting greens, onions, cabbage, potatoes and other early maturing vegetables.
The customary time to plant early-maturing corn on our farm was late March while cotton planting followed by two to three weeks. I don’t remember ever having to replant an entire crop of either but there were times when cold temperatures in and made chopping and hoeing difficult for farm hands. Protecting early crops such as tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes was an unwelcome chore on our farm.
My father was a stickler when it came to getting a head start on other peddlers with tomatoes and watermelons. He sold them three to four weeks ahead of anybody else. They brought 25 cents per pound when the demand was at its peak. When the price dropped to 10 cents per pound, he fed them to our hogs.
As a newcomer vegetable and fruit grower, I decided to try my hand as an early bird grower of strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes three years ago. The strawberries pretty much took care of themselves during the winter months. That changed, however, when they started blooming in early March. This called for them to be covered in pine straw anytime the temperature dropped in the low 30s. I stopped counting when the number of coverings reached five.
The protection of tender tomato plants was equally frustrating. I decided the best approach to early maturing tomatoes was to use an early maturing variety and hold off planting until early May when the danger of a killing frost is over.