Have a hankering for homegrown tomatoes? Eager to see the signs of ripening in your garden without waiting weeks and weeks? Even though it’s early spring, you can extend the growing season and hurry up your harvest by trying some of these tips and products:
- Gain three weeks on the growing season by pre-warming the soil with Weed Shield, a black, porous plastic landscape fabric. Weed shield can be laid over your prepared garden soil and secured with landscape pins. Allow at least five days of sunny weather to warm the soil. Once the soil has warmed, cut X’s in the plastic and plant through them, keeping the edges of the fabric over seed holes or against seedlings to continue warming. As the season progresses and the air and the soil temperatures increase, remove Weed Shield and replace it with salt hay. Be mindful that if you plant seedlings, you may need to take additional steps to protect the delicate shoots and leaves above the soil as well.
- Warm the soil around your plants with floating row covers (Plant & Seed Blanket or remay fabric) or cloches (mini greenhouses). Lay remay fabric over your newly planted seedlings to hold in the heat. Anchor with landscape pins to guard against unwanted chilly breezes. Remember to pin the blanket loosely so the plants have room to grow – or use hoops if preferred. Cloches like the Wall O’ Water store the heat in plastic tubes of water that absorb heat from the sun in the day and radiate it back to plants at night. This will protect plants to temperatures as low as 19 degrees. Hot caps can also be placed over plants to hold in warm air.
- Cold frames can be used to warm the soil, grow plants as in a mini greenhouse or protect plants like a large cloche. They’re also good for transitioning seedlings you’ve started indoors until they are ready to be planted directly into the garden. This is called ‘hardening off’ seedlings. When using this technique, place your cold frame near the wall of a heated building if possible to take advantage of heat radiation. Manure may be used to warm the soil. If warming the soil, place the cold frame in the garden 10 days before you want to plant. Orient the frame so it runs east to west so more sun will reach the plants. Then, plant directly into the frame. Remove the cold frame when temperatures are no longer a threat to young plants. In all situations, be sure to vent the cold frame to keep it from getting too hot and be sure to water with water that’s at least as warm as the soil.
- Automator Tomato Trays are 12” square black plastic trays that will warm the soil around your vegetable plants. These trays have attached spikes to anchor them into the ground and holes in the plastic that allow water and oxygen to reach the roots of your plants. Because the Automator Tomato Trays cover such a small area around the plant, they may be left in place all season without difficulty.
With these different options, there are always ways to get a head start on your gardening this spring!