Friday, March 19, 2010

Early Spring Zone 8a

USDA hardiness zones based on average minimum winter temperatures rather than average high temperatures and length of the growing season, are a good guideline to follow when determining which plants you might expect to survive outside during winter, but I'm not convinced they help much with my seasonal vegetable garden. Gardening in the most northwestern county of Washington State, my Happy Valley Community Garden plots are located just under three miles inland from the coast, in Zone 8a according to the map. The key to this map indicates the average minimum temperature in Zone 8a to be 10 degrees F. This last winter, even though exceptionally mild and lacking in snowfall, did have a few nights early on where the temperature dipped even a little lower than that, so an average minimum temperature of 10 degrees sounds reasonable to me. Even though that doesn't tell me anything about what I can expect during the spring, summer and fall growing season, I do take the fact that I garden in Zone 8a into consideration in the fall when mulching around periennial flowers, herbs and fruits that are established in my garden.

I pay more attention to our average last frost date than our average minimum temperature when determining when to start planting the most tender vegetables outside. According to Jeff Renner, Chief Meterologist for King 5 in Seattle, the last average frost date for Seattle is March 22 and the last average frost date for Bellingham is May 5. Even though we seem to be experiencing an early spring with highs already into the 50s nearly every afternoon, most mornings I still see a thick, crunchy frost on my lawn. It is obviously still too early to set out tomato, squash or pepper plants. But it's not too early to start cleaning up the garden, so that's where I've been lately. I've been spending my afternoons puttering around with my rake and wearing my garden gloves in my already established garden at the Happy Valley Community Gardens.I've raked up some of the straw mulch put down last fall and pruned the raspberries, transplanting those tender new sprouts that poked up where they shouldn't be back into the boundaries of my raspberry patch. I uncovered a couple of the smaller raised beds, raked off the mulch, worked in a little fertilizer and planted my first crop of some of my favorite cool-weather vegetables.
In one bed, I planted Bok Choy Cabbage, Italian Lacinato Kale, Cool Weather Fava Broad Beans, Oregon Giant Snow Peas, Early Wonder Tall Top Beets, Baby's Leaf Spinach, French Breakfast Radishes, and then some Jester Marigolds to discourage the pesky bugs.
In other raised beds, I sowed seeds for my first planting of Red Russian Kale, Prizehead Leaf Lettuce, "America" Spinach, Crimson Giant Radishes, Little Marvel Bush Peas. After pruning back the snapdragons that survived the winter and are sprouting again, in between those plants, I scattered some Brilliant Red Oriental Poppy seeds.
All safe crops safe to sow in the garden even in the late fall in Zone 8a. The lettuce won't even begin to sprout until the soil temperature reach close to 70 degrees, but as a gardener, I was getting a bit of spring fever so felt the need to get out there, do some gardening, plant something.

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