Archive for Wednesday, March 12, 2008

As weather warms, gardeners need to ward off intruders

March 12, 2008

At long last, the forecast calls for spring. This week we were to have consecutive days with temperatures in the 60s and just a slight chance of precipitation. For gardeners, who come by their thrills easily, this is exciting news.

That's because March 17, the unofficial start of the vegetable gardening season, is looming and in most of northeast Kansas the ground is wet. At my house late last week, at least an inch of snow and rain fell on my already-saturated garden soil.

But a few days in the mid- to high 60s with 20 mph winds, which also are in the forecast, will take care of that problem. Barring more rain, many of the gardeners in this area will be able to till this weekend or early next week, and may even be able to plant their potatoes on St. Patrick's Day.

Even if the weather doesn't fully cooperate, the fact that warm days are now becoming clustered in the forecast means that folks who plant an early garden should be able to put it in by the end of the month. In addition to potatoes, the vegetables that should be planted between now and mid-April include onions, carrots, salad greens, cole crops and snow peas.

All of these vegetables must emerge and do most of their growing before hot weather hits. Many most of the vegetables on this list either won't germinate or won't produce in hot weather.

In the case of onions, heat alters the flavor, giving sweet onions an unpleasant bite. Vegetables that bolt as the season warms, such as lettuce and broccoli, need an early start to complete their full growth cycle. Cauliflower turns brown and hard if it spends too must time in heat. Brussels sprouts become rubbery.

As we begin planting this year, it will be important to think proactively about protecting new plants from the local wildlife. While there are no insects to bother an early garden and disease problems are minimal, nothing makes rabbits and deer happier than baby lettuce and small broccoli plants. Given the spike in the four-legged population in recent years, defensive gardening is a must, even in town.

Because I live in a rural area, I can't think about planting a garden without accounting for all manner of furry interloper. The deer in my neighborhood have formed gangs and the rabbits, squirrels and raccoons are all anarchists.

The electric fence system I installed about five years ago failed last year, and I have resigned myself to spending money this spring to replace it.

I also had some luck last summer with coyote urine, which is available in concentrated form at most farm supply stores. I know it sends a message because of the hurt and bewildered look on my Labrador retriever's face when I take the cap off the bottle.

Some people add the urine concentrate to water in a spray bottle and apply it directly to plants. As with the application of any garden spray, it's important to take stock of wind direction before starting to squirt. In this case, a miscalculation will send you to the showers. The diluted spray must be reapplied at least every other day, which is something of a hassle.

To avoid these problems and to concentrate the aroma, I "marked" the garden last year by dabbing cotton balls in the concentrate and half-burying them at the ends of rows and points of entry into the garden. This must be repeated every couple of days, but it's less labor-intensive and, as long as you wear rubber gloves, won't make you smell like a coyote.

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