Gardening season already in full swing

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Early planting defies conventional wisdom, but it works

You can’t plant your garden before the May long weekend, goes the conventional wisdom, so you could be forgiven for thinking it’s too early to get anything in the ground.

You could be forgiven for thinking that, but you’d be wrong.

While it is indeed too early to start planting some of the more sensitive vegetables that we enjoy in north-central Alberta – green beans, squash, cucumbers and the like – many of the hardier vegetables can most certainly go in the ground now.

In fact, at our small garden in Morinville: the peas are already an inch high and nearly ready to start climbing the trellis, the onions and garlic are dutifully putting up their first long tubular leaves, and even our salad greens have broken to the surface.

Most of these were planted April 10 and 11, well before we had the most recent overnight frosts and snowfall. And in a place like north central Alberta where we had a limited growing season, three extra weeks worth of vegetable growing can make a pretty significant difference.

I may not be a professional gardening expert, but as an experienced amateur I can assure you I have no fear of the frost thwarting my early planting. Several years ago about an hour north in Westlock, during one particularly warm spring we had put our peas in the ground right at the end of March. My neighbour told me I was crazy, but he certainly didn’t complain when I brought some fresh peas over to him on the May long weekend as he was Rototilling his own plot.

And realistically, if you consider the risk associated with early planting – possibly losing a few dollars worth of seeds – it’s not exactly a huge loss.

And while the hardy direct-sow seeds can go directly into the dirt unprotected at this time of year, even some of the more sensitive plants can get out into the garden with a little help.

Meanwhile, we have started several Goji berry bushes – a relatively hardy plant that has been found naturalized in Edmonton’s river valley system – and they’ve been thriving every day and even overnight in a small plastic cold-frame.

Several of our tomato plants have been spending an hour or two every afternoon in our small pop-up greenhouse, and all indications are that they’re thriving and ready to get potted up or planted in the soil.

Earlier this week I even, perhaps foolishly, planted a six-inch seedling directly into the dirt in our back garden to see how it fares. It is protected by a small hot-hat, which is essentially a tiny plastic greenhouse you can put over an individual plant, and has very successfully weathered the single-digit overnight lows for the past few days. And people tell me I should wait three weeks? Bah.

If you’re at loose ends this weekend, it may be high time to get started with the garden; after all, what have you got to lose?

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Doug Neuman