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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New hardiness zones map coming out

The USDA puts out a new hardiness zone map about every fifteen years, and although there was one due out a few years ago, they are apparently just now getting around to it. There are appreciable changes to the zones, and you may want to be apprised of them now at the beginning of most gardening seasons…it could well affect not only what varieties you choose to plant, but also you may discover that there are types of plants that you may be able to grow that you couldn’t before. Other considerations are brought up by Warming shifts gardeners’ maps at The article also has a really neat Adobe Flash Player graphic where you can run a slider over the map, changing it from the old map to the new map. Quite impressive!

Hardiness zone maps comparison

Do take this information with a grain of salt; just because the USDA says your zone has changed does not necessarily mean it has appreciably affected your microclimate. That information is probably best available from your local extension agency; do check with them, they are very helpful folks. Generally speaking, if there is something that has not performed well in your garden the few years the information on the new climate zone map is not likely to make much difference.

You might also want to take a look at The Old Farmer’s Almanac Outdoor Planting Table . Don’t forget to select your location if you don’t live in Boston, MA which is the default table. Ultimately, probably the best way to tell when to plant what is by soil temperature. A soil thermometer is possibly one of the best garden tools you can pick up cheaply and easily. I’m personally very fond of Territorial Seed Company , not only for their excellent seeds and seed selection but also because when you click on any given variety of seed you can scroll down, click on “More Information” and read just about every pertinent bit of basic information you could need for that type of vegetable—like this information:

BUSH BEAN CULTURE: Bush beans are one of the most trouble-free garden crops and mature just ahead of pole beans. Beans like warm soil and will not germinate if the soil temperature is below 60°F. Optimum soil temperature range is 65-85°F. You can expect emergence in 8-16 days depending on the variety. In a well worked bed, plant the seeds 2-3 inches apart and 1 inch deep in rows 18-36 inches apart. Thinning is rarely necessary. Beans are relatively light feeders. One cup of our complete fertilizer per 10 row feet will provide adequate nutrition. Excess nitrogen results in excess foliage with poor pod set and delayed maturity. Optimum pH is in the range of 5.5-6.5, mildly acidic. Beans are shallow rooted and can require up to 1/4 inch of water a day during hot weather. Mulch around the roots to help conserve moisture.
DISEASE: Beans are subject to numerous diseases. Avoid wetting the foliage, remove plants at the end of the year, and practice a 4-year crop rotation to prevent potential problems.
INSECTS: Mexican bean beetles and bean weevils can significantly damage young seedlings. To treat, dust them with Rotenone. Optimum soil conditions foster vigorous plants, which can help plant growth outpace insect damage.
HARVEST: Green beans are ready for harvest about 2 weeks after bloom. Pick when the pods are nearly full size and the seeds are still small. Pods at this stage have firm, crispy flesh and are low in fiber content. Keep plants well picked to extend harvest and increase yield. Plant short rows for fresh eating; plant longer rows to have additional beans for canning and freezing. A 20 foot row will feed the average family of 4, unless heavy canning is anticipated.
SEED SPECS: Minimum germination standard: 80%. Usual seed life: 2-3 years. One ounce plants 12-15 row feet, 1/2 pound for 100 row feet; 1/2 pound is 8 ounces. Seed counts are listed in the variety description.

Even a first time gardener can be confident of at least some production just with information like the above. You can even guesstimate how much seed you need to plant how many feet of that vegetable. A valuable resource!

I got some edible podded peas planted last week-end; I’ll be planting more peas (regular garden peas this time; Little Marvel) this week, if it will just not snow when I’ve planned to go out. The new hardiness maps coming out notwithstanding, this feels like a very late spring to me. Peas, fortunately, prefer cool weather and an early start, and make a great bellwether for the rest of your garden planting.

I’ve also been fondling my seed bank lately, and soon every available flat surface will I’m sure be pressed into service to hold real, honest seed flats—in addition to empty cottage cheese cartons, milk jugs cut into mini-greenhouses and deep styrofoam trays for presprouting. I’m always hard pressed not to seed in an entire package of tomato seeds, but I know that’s crazy…especially in light of the fact that I have accumulated ten varieties and still only have the balcony space or guerilla gardening for planting options. Growing tomatoes delights me, even though I don’t care to eat them. :-)

I’m also seeding in my cole crops, specifically the brussel sprouts which need a long growing season. Swiss chard “Bright Lights” will be pretty on the balcony and good to eat, too; I’ll also start my Pak Choi for early spring greens…takes up little space and is so tasty in stir fry! In about another six weeks it’ll be time to direct seed the squashes, cucumbers and melons…and I know that time will just fly by.

Have started on your garden? What do you have planted or planned? Are you planting enough to put some by? Are you planning on doing any guerilla gardening with any extra seeds or starts?


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