Check soil temperatures before planting this spring

“Plant your potatoes on Good Friday, ” the old farmers used to say. That usually was good advice even though the date of Good Friday changes from one year to the next. It arrives as early as March 20 and as late as April 23.

Potatoes can sprout and grow under relatively cool conditions, which is why the Good Friday advice worked so well. It looks like this is one of those years when that rule of thumb won’t work.

Now-a-days we use a more scientific method for judging when to plant, and I’m not talking about the farmer’s almanac. Agronomists learned a long time ago that plants, including potatoes, need a specific soil temperature in order to sprout and grow.

In the case of potatoes, the soil temperature in your garden needs to be at least 45 degrees F or higher. With any temperature lower that that, you risk having the seed potato rot in the ground. At best, it will take a long time for the plant to emerge from the soil and start growing. So, you really don’t gain anything by planting too early in cold soil.

It looks like cool temeperatures will be with us for awhile so, unless we get warm weather soon think about checking the soil temperature with a thermometer before doing any planting later this spring. This is true with all plants and seeds not just potatoes. For example pumpkins require soil temeratures above 60 degrees F while sweet potatoes need at least 65 degrees F.

If you don't have a soil thermometer, use a kitchen thermometer to check soil temperature.
If you don’t have a soil thermometer, use a kitchen thermometer to check soil temperature.

To find soil temerature requirements look at the growing information on the seed packages. Many seed catalogs list this information too.


Start seeds indoors at the proper time

Mid-March is the time when gardeners begin to sow seeds indoors.

A friend mentioned to me that she knew someone who started cantaloupe seeds already. It’s much too early for that. Those plants will end up so leggy and weak that they will not recover from transplanting out into the garden — if they live that long. It’s about a month too early for cantaloupes. I know it’s hard to do sometimes — especially for beginners —  but try to resist the urge to start seeds before their recommended sowing date.

Many seeds can be started now,  especially the cool weather vegetable crops like those in the cabbage family. Onions and their relatives such as leeks and chives are sown now too.

The time is right for indoor sowing of foxgloves, echinacea, sweet william,  petunias, snap dragons, holly hocks and several other flowers.

Parsley, thyme, oregano, sage as well as other herbs should be sown indoors now.

So, follow the suggested seeding times on the package or in the seed catalog. Amaze your friends with your healthy, home grown transplants.


Baby grasshoppers hatch inside terrarium

Spring arrived early this year, at least that’s what some grasshoppers at our house thought.

Last fall we planted some small, glass terrariums using plants growing in pots outdoors. We used a variety of tender succulent plants which meant we had to bring them inside so they wouldn’t die from the winter’s freezing temperatures.

This week we discovered a family of baby grasshoppers  had hatched inside one of our terrariums. It looks like there are about 30 of them in there.

You’ve probably heard the saying “cute as a bug”, well these little guys really are that cute! You rarely see them at this stage because they are so tiny and they are the favorite food of a wide variety of predators. Just a small percentage ever make it to be full-sized adults.

This grasshopper nymph is only a few days old.
This grasshopper nymph is only a few days old.

Grasshoppers spend the winter underground in the egg stage of their life cycle. They hatch in the spring when the temperatures warm up — that is known as the nymph stage. The nymphs look like a miniature versions of adult grasshoppers except they don’t have wings. They’ll earn their wings later on in the season.

The nymphs look like miniature grasshoppers -- minus the wings.
The nymphs look like miniature grasshoppers — minus the wings.

In our case, an adult grasshopper laid its eggs in the soil of a potted plant we had outdoors. When we transplanted the plant, we accidentally brought along the grasshopper eggs. The eggs spent the winter in our home inside the terrarium. There they transformed into nymphs and hatched out.

They’re safe and sound behind the glass — for now. When the weather warms up, I plan to release them outside where they will have to fend for themselves.