If you could flip the Spring 2011 weather in Indiana completely upside-down and orient it backwards, you’d get the weather we’re having in the Spring of 2012. Outside it feels like the early days of a normal May, highs around 80 and lows around 60 — except it’s been like this for most of March. Instead of cold, saturated ground that kills nearly every seed I plant, I have moist earth that’s almost a little too dry on top. The rains I’d expect to see in Spring, the ones that leave the trenches around the mound garden six inches deep in runoff until I find what’s blocking the flow, have not shown up. About once a week, a light shower falls.
Updating, April 24th, 2012 — Surprisingly, most of the early plantings survived and thrived. All the cool weather vegetables did well and I’m already eating green onions and radishes. The snow peas are about a foot tall and reaching for the first tiers of the trellis. The final frosts were light, killed the potatoes back to the ground but only a few had come up, and the plants have all recovered and been joined by the rest of the crowd. What didn’t do well were the hot weather crops, since overall the weather has returned to cool and damp, even a little colder than usual for April. I’ll probably direct seed tomatoes and peppers when the ground warms up, and it’s far too cold for beans, even though some of the plants survived. Not bad for a gamble.
Daffodils are up and just starting to bloom, and for the first time I can recall are not among the first Spring flowers to open. When I was a kid I used to search for the first tips of those hardy green blades and celebrate them as the first sign of winter’s end. Always disappointing, because the weather always switched to cold and dismally wet instead of cold and frozen, the real Spring weather still weeks away. This year the daffodils are lagging behind everything else. Fruit trees and flowers are blooming, deciduous trees are leafing out, and the last average frost date is still about a month away. It will surely come, and if it’s a hard frost that will put an end to the fruit crop here.
In the middle of this crazy and beautiful strange weather, I have planted a garden, knowing it’s way too soon and will be put at all sorts of peril. I’m still planting. Three weeks of good weather, the first two with highs near 80, ought to get all the early vegetables started. With some mulch and plastic tarps I can probably pull them through that last hard frost, when it comes. I’ve planted snow peas, radishes, daikon, beets, carrots, six kinds of onions, three kinds of garlic, Yukon potatoes and turnips. Onion seeds have sprouted already, onion sets are doing well, and the garlic and onions I planted last fall have put on their first spurt of Spring growth. In pots and seed flats I have everything else going, tomatoes and peppers and squash and cucumbers, all the warm season crops that won’t germinate in a cold house are sitting on the front porch in this bizarrely warm sunshine. Even the tropical taro I overwintered in pots in the breezeway decided to poke a sprout up and test the air.
As a gardener, I know this good fortune won’t last. The climate is just teasing us as yet, drawing us to plant so that hard freeze comes at exactly the wrong time, or setting us up for a terrible Spring drought. I may be planting everything all over again a month from now after the hail smashes everything flat. Last year in the cold and the wet I planted many things four times before I got anything to grow.
If you grow your own food, you can’t not try. Seed only grows if you plant it, and with the crazy weather we’ve had the past few years, once usually isn’t enough. Every week or so, you plant again, trying different things until you get something right. I can remember when Spring was predictable, the rains came on schedule every year and you knew what would grow and what would not and when to do each step of the gardening process. It’s so different now, that now I wonder whether that stable weather was ever real, or maybe as a kid I just thought it was. We seemed to always have a garden, though, and even though it was hard work, it was never this much trouble.
It’s another beautiful Spring day in 2012. I’d better go plant some more peas.