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Watching The Snow Melt

2/27/2014 8:50:00 AM

Tags: microclimates, cold frames, phenology, season extension, Cindy Conner, Virginia

melting snow if coldframeIf you have snow in your area and you haven’t taken photos of the patterns of its melting, you might want to do that before winter is over. With snow it is easier to notice the mini-climates that are around your house and in the garden. In this photo, the rest of the snow had melted a day or two before, except in the shadiest spots. There was no cover on this cold frame and, as you can see, there is snow left from the shade of the short south side of the cold frame. You normally wouldn’t think of a cold frame casting shade inside the box where your seedlings are, but it does when the sun is low in the sky, as it is in the winter months. Earlier there would have been evidence of snow on the east and west ends from the shade cast by those sides. You can see snow on the outside of the cold frame on the north side where it is shaded. This cold frame had no cover for the winter for two reasons. I have another cold frame in use over the winter that has a cover and newly planted seeds, so I didn’t need this for winter production. The other reason is that I need to make a new cover and hadn’t found time to do that yet. Hopefully I’ll soon get that done and get this one planted.

Of course, it’s easiest to tell where the cool spots are in your garden by watching the snow melt. Lacking snow, you can pay careful attention to shadows. If I wanted to make maximum use of the cold frame in the photo, I could have slanted the bed so the soil was receiving more direct rays. I know, however, that the sun is getting higher in the sky every day and shade inside the box won’t be an issue soon. Learn more about watching the snow melt at Homeplace Earth.

In my blog post on phenology I talked of paying attention to the temperature of the soil and even what kind of thermometers to use. Even if you knew the temperature of the soil, it might not mean anything to you unless you knew what temperatures the seeds of different crops preferred. You can find that from two publications provided by Oregon State Extension. From their Days to Appearance of Seedlings at Various Soil Temperatures from Seed Planted at ½” Depth I see that when the soil is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it will take lettuce 7 days to germinate, spinach 12 days, and peas 13 days. When the soil temperature is 41 degrees, lettuce will take 14 days to germinate, spinach 22 days, and peas 36 days.

By contrast, beans aren’t even shown to germinate at 41 and 50 degrees. At 59 degrees beans will germinate in 16 days; 11 days at 68 degrees; and 8 days at 77 degrees. Knowing that, you can understand why beans will rot in cold wet soil, rather than coming up, if you plant them too early. I remember seeing bean and corn seeds with a fungicide coating on them to keep the fungus from setting in and rotting them. That is a rather toxic way of starting off your food growing for the season. It makes more sense to understand the conditions each crop needs and to plant accordingly. No fungicide needed.

With the knowledge of what temperature each crop does best in, you can be more successful with your seeds and transplants this season. Warm the soil by pulling off the mulch a week or two before planting and letting the sun do the warming. Laying a sheet of plastic over the bed for a week or two will also help it warm up. Happy planting!

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she's up to at

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