Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Last Average Frost Date Halifax

According to various sources I have been able to find, today is the magic "last average frost date" for Halifax...the day used as a guideline for planting seeds and seedlings. 

http://www.veseys.com/ca/en/learn/reference/frost/canada

The general rule of thumb, it would seem, is to count backwards or forwards from the ‘last frost date” for your area- depending on the vegetable- to figure out when to plant seeds indoors and set them out, or direct seed in the garden.

Sounds easy enough, but I’m a little confused. Take for instance peas. According to my seed charts, these can be planted 4-6 weeks before the last frost date which in Halifax would be around March 25. Other instructions for planting peas indicate to plant ‘as soon as soil can be worked’. I have read other information that in NS, peas should be planted in May. The soil in my raised beds was thawed completely in late March, and was definitely ‘workable’.  Knowing that I was probably jumping the gun (and with an extra set of pea seeds on order, just in case), I went ahead and planted some peas in containers. Sure enough, the following week was c-o-l-d. below zero temps. Luckily the peas were in buckets, so I brought the two smaller ones inside, covered the ½ barrel with a blanket and put it in my shed. The soil in the barrel definitely froze up again. I thought that surely they had met their end. Fast forward to today, and the are doing quite well. But lesson learned, next year I’ll wait until April to plant peas.

Next on my list is Tomatoes. When you plug the dates into the "lazy gardeners automatic seed chart at yougrowgirl.com, it says to get the seedlings in the ground 2 weeks after  the frost date (http://www.yougrowgirl.com/grow/seedstart_chart_v2.0.xls) which would be around May 20.

Last year I read an article in a newspaper that said that gardeners on the east coast know to wait until June to plant warm loving tomatoes, pepper and basil, despite what the frost charts say. Seems reasonable considering there was a frost warning in July last year and many of the other areas in the east have a later date (see the vessy's link above). But I’ve also read that with a raised bed the soil is warmer faster than an in-ground garden and allows you to plant earlier. Also, you can cover the area where you are planting your tomatoes with clear plastic to warm it up even further. Once they are in the ground, you can place a simple homemade greenhouse over them, made out of a clear plastic jug. With the tomatoes, I'm going to go with slightly cautious route, plant them at the later end of the chart and maybe try one a week earlier to see how it goes (provided i have extra seedlings to play around with).

I get the feeling that deciding when to plant is where experience comes into play. Using the charts as a guide, then watching the weather.  As we all know around here, the weather can be unpredictable on a daily basis, not to mention year after year. 

Of course, there is also the concept of planting around favorable moon dates to consider....don't get me started on that one- maybe next year.

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