“When apple blossoms start to fall…,” “When lilacs are in full bloom…,” “When oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear…” Our neighbors and The Old Farmer’s Almanac are full of advice about when to plant corn, beans, squash, and other crops. It may seem like old wives tales but there is a growing body of evidence showing that growing degree days and phenology (the study of natural plant cycles) are valuable planning tools for gardeners in these times of climate change and unpredictable weather.
The USA-NPN's phenology observation program, Nature's Notebook, is a nationwide effort to collect and distribute data on the timing of plant and animal life cycle events. If you have recorded your own observations of nature over the past years, want to get started with your own observations, or would like to explore the wealth of data available, you should explore the USA National Phenology Network.
Below are a few of signs from The Old Farmer's Almanac that match up closely with our observations here in Central Virginia. Being a modern gardener, I also check my Vegetable Garden Planner for recommended planting dates for our planting zone, but I have been rewarded many times with an early harvest or a late frost avoided for heeding the natural signs.
- Plant corn and beans when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when dogwoods are in full bloom.
- Plant lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli, and cabbage when the lilacs show their first leaves or when daffodils begin to bloom.
- Plant tomatoes, early corn, and peppers when dogwoods are in peak bloom or when daylilies start to bloom.
- Plant cucumbers and squash when lilac flowers fade.
- Start succession plantings of beets and carrots when dandelions are blooming.
- Plant peas when the forsythia blooms.
The lilac flowers, apple blossoms, and my Mother Earth Vegetable Garden Planner agree it’s time to turn under the rye cover crop and prepare the soil for early beans and summer squash, with the first tomatoes not too far behind. And looking at my planner reminded me I better get those late succession plantings of cabbage and broccoli in the ground before the last daffodils fade.
We are putting in a some extra rows in our own garden to donate to Plant A Row for the Hungry and I encourage you to consider growing extra for those in need in your community.
One quick spring recipe that we use as a great way to use the extra spring radishes: Thoroughly wash 1 cup of Cherry Belle radishes, Easter Egg Mix radishes, or some other colorful spring radish variety. Slice into thin rounds in a bowl or glass jar. Lightly salt the radish slices and cover with rice wine vinegar. Let sit for 1 hr. Serve as a crisp refreshing spring salad. Leftovers may be refrigerated for up to a week.
Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking.
Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+varieties of Non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her first book, the “The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast,” will be available in 2013.