Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 8, 2013

DIRT ON GARDENING: Will spring arrive early? Maybe yes, maybe no

By TOM YODER
COLUMNIST

— According to Punxsutawney Phil we’re going to have an early spring, and that makes me somewhat happy. One surely wouldn’t know it from the likes of the freezing temperatures outside at this moment.



JUST RETURNING from Phoenix, Ariz., where temperatures were in the 70s when leaving, left me somewhat in shock while retrieving my snow and ice-laden vehicle in 14 degree temps in a light jacket at the airport then driving home on the U.S. 20 bypass in extremely nasty weather. (Why did I leave Arizona?).

It’s been a roller-coaster ride so far this winter with highs in the 50s and lows in the single digits with 30-degree swings in a 24-hour period. The much-too-early spring could happen again like it did last year, although I hope not — an early spring may put a smile on your face but it can render disaster to fruit and vegetable farmers.

These topsy-turvy weather patterns cause significant damage to our local fruit and vegetable industry with total destruction of fruit crops in some cases, as it did last year.  



WEATHER PATTERNS very widely in a 100-mile radius, so growers are always on the watch for freezes. Some precautionary measures are available but it’s always worrisome that it will not be enough. These fruit growers, understanding the delicate balance of temperatures from bud to maturity in different growing areas, will sometimes “help” growers that have been hurt by unusual weather circumstances by offering tons of their own crops to tide the grower over for the season. I’ve seen it happen several times over a 15-year period where the large peach farmer I frequented had to rely on this “help” from a grower farther north whose crops were not affected. Thank goodness for this cooperation between growers.



A FRUIT GROWER’S life is not an easy one. Pesticides must be applied early at what is known as “silver tip” (first emergence of the leaf) and at timed intervals thereafter in order to have disease–free crops, then ripening fruit tested every few days for correct sugar content and ripeness.

It’s all a matter of timing, and weather conditions play an important part. Basically, growers are at the mercy of weather each year during the growing and ripening process.

Nearly all fruit growers who deal in the standard crops of peaches, apples, grapes, cherries, blueberries, apricots, plums, and raspberries hesitate to “put all their chips in one basket,” so to speak, and therefore raise other crops as well like pumpkins, bell peppers, Indian corn and yes, even wheat, soybeans and hybrid corn crops, which aren’t as apt to be affected by wide temperature swings. This practice will soften the blow in case of failure in one or more of their prime fruit crops.

Seed catalogs are in the mail and entertaining orders- massive seed displays will soon, if not already, be on the floors of every entity that deals in gardening. Greenhouse operations are gearing up for March deliveries of planting material which will kick-off the growing season for this year.



SOUND UNBELIEVABLE? Well, it’s true. We’re only a month away from the time greenhouses will start bursting with newly planted green life.

To me, and to the majority of gardeners, there is no sweeter smell than to step into a greenhouse of 68 to 70 degree temperature in the middle of winter. The moisture-laden air and the smell of planting medium (grower’s dirt) will lift the spirit and make you forget the winter blues.

Don’t despair — 30 days isn’t that far away, and we all know April (60 days) is planting time for early flowers and vegetables like pansies and violas and cabbage and broccoli.