Helping To Heat Up A Chilly Spring

Baby, It’s Cold Out There

It’s May! Blossom and bird song fill the air. The garden’s all prepped. The beds are made and mulched. The plants are tucked in place, ready to grow.

I said, READY to GROW. Hello?

If your plants are experiencing poor reception with spring sunshine, they aren’t alone. Gardens from Oregon to British Columbia share the problem. Indeed, this year’s prolonged cool weather makes last spring look balmy.

Chilly Mornings

April temperatures for the past century were well ahead of this year’s. Some say we’re a month behind normal bloom periods. Others say we’re ten degrees colder than normal. All our plants know is that we are still getting 35 degree mornings.

Happily, this cool weather has several plus sides. For one thing, the fleeting flowers of spring last a lot longer in cool years. For another, it’s good for transplanting. If this summer turns out to be as wet and cool as predicted, it will be helpful for newly planted trees and shrubs.

Simple Protections

If your warm-crop vegetables are shivering, an unheated greenhouse or coldframe is an ideal holding place. Just be sure to open the door if the sun should manage to break through for a minute. Automatic openers triggered by temperature changes can also do this when you aren’’t home.

If you don’t have such a place to offer, simple protections such as hot caps, wall-o-water covers, and cloches can be bought at most nurseries. You can make a pretty decent temporary hothouse for chilly peppers and such by turning conical tomato cages upside down. Bend the legs inside and wrap the sides with floating row cover or clear plastic sheeting.

Whatever Floats Your Boat

In either case, use floating row cover material to cap off the open top: this lets in water, light, and air while helping to keep the heat in. These cages can be a bit tippy without their legs planted into the soil, so fasten them down with tent stakes or use the cut-off legs, bent into “U” shapes, to pin them down.

Floating row cover (Reemay is the most popular brand) is a light-weight material with a lot of uses. It protects growing plants from cold and insect damage.To use it, you simply drape the filmy stuff over the plants. Anchor it lightly, using soil or special pins. Leave plenty of slack so the plants have room to grow. They will lift the cover up with them as they do (that’s why it’s called ‘floating’).

Tape Up Those Tears

To protect plants from insect damage, pin the edges closely (again, leaving lots of growth room). Otherwise, just secure it well enough to prevent it from blowing away. If you know a light freeze is coming, add an extra layer or two. Row cover cloth–especially the “blanket” pieces–can be stored and reused for several years. It does tear, but can be mended with paper tape. Reemay is available at most nurseries and many hardware stores. It comes in rolls 67 inches wide and anywhere from 20 to 2,500 feet long. Prices start around $15 for the smallest roll.

Offer Some Warm Ups

Here in the Maritime Northwest, crops like eggplants, tomatoes, melon and peppers need all the warmth and light they can get. If Reemay cuts off too much light, Gro-Therm film may be your best bet. Used as a row or cage cover, this clear film raises crop temperatures as much as ten degrees during the day. At night, though, an extra layer of Reemay will provide better frost protection. If you can’t find Gro-Therm Film, it can be ordered from Territorial Seed Company (see below).

Territorial also carries Tufflite, an extra strong and sturdy plastic sheeting that protects plants from rain, wind, and cold. While most clear plastic sheeting discolors and gets brittle when exposed to sunlight, Tufflite stays usable for up to four years. A 6 foot  by 50 foot roll of Gro-Therm costs under $20, while sheets of Tufflite sized for hoop-houses or tunnels start at $30 for 6 x 16 feet. You choose….

Territorial Seed Company
PO Box 157
Cottage Grove, OR 97424-0061
Phone: 541-942-9547
FAX: 888-657-3131

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2 Responses to Helping To Heat Up A Chilly Spring

  1. Katie Bach says:

    I have been a follower of yours for years.Formerly I was with Cedar Grove Composting for 8 yrs.Presently I am representing Oly Mountain fish compost.This is made locally in Belfair and takes up to two years to produce.It consists of 90% whole salmon and local hardwood and green waste.The compost is high in nutrients and is also certififed organic.I would love to give you some bags or even a bulk load to try out.
    Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Katie Bach 425.420.5570

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Katie,

      I always try out freebie samples at the public library, where the amazing volunteer Friday Tidies can help assess merit. We are always there on Friday mornings (all yer round, rain or shine) and would love to learn more about the fish compost. Please do stop by when you can!



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