As gardeners, we spend a lot of time researching varieties of plants, we spend time preparing our soil, we spend time pulling weeds,we spend time irrigating our crops, we spend time cooking, preserving, and myriad other garden chores. What many gardeners do not spend much time on is TIMING!
Timing is truly everything…do things too early or too late and your efforts will not be rewarded. Doing things at the right time is one major factor in how successful your garden will be each season. There are lots of great books and websites out there that explain this in much more detail than I can in this format, I encourage you to check out these great reads:
What I have gleaned from my reading and website perusing over the years are a few basic tenets of garden timing. It’s tough to get it perfect all the time, but if you’re close, your garden will be more bountiful than you ever imagined.
First off…tomatoes! There is a narrow window of tomato planting for us here in Kansas City. We have crazy swings in our weather like the spring of 2012, but we can forget years like that and go with the long term averages. Our BEST time to plant tomato plants is the first three weeks of May. Plant any earlier than that and you are likely going to have to deal with frost/freeze issues that will kill your plant and cold soil temperatures that will keep your plant from growing. Plant much later than that and your plants will not have time to grow and set fruit before the blazing hot temps of late June get here. If you do plant late and your plants do not set fruit, do not be discouraged as they may set fruit in late summer when we have a cool period of weather and you’ll have a late harvest of plants in September and October.
Lettuces, radishes, cabbage, beets, kohlrabi, and other cool season crops should be planted as early as possible. As soon as your soil is thawed in early March, it’s time to get these plants in the ground. I prefer to grow all of my cool season plants in containers in the house and greenhouse in early-mid February, then transplants them to the garden as soon as there is a slight break in the weather. I cover them with low tunnels made from spun bond fabric that lets the light and water in, but keeps the wind and bugs out and it regulates the temperatures enough so the tiny seedlings can get a good start. If you try to plant these cool loving crops too late in the year, you will likely see them bolt to seed before the plants get big enough to harvest. You can again plant these crops in late summer…early September is usually a good time frame for a harvest throughout the fall and into early winter. Again…cover then with a low tunnel and you’ll be amazed at the salads you can grow into December!
Squash, beans, cucumbers, corn, and other warm weather loving crops need to be planted only when the weather is very warm. When daytime highs are in the upper 70’s and low 80’s and nighttime temps do not get below 55 or 60, it is time to sow these seeds. Plant them in cold soil and they will not germinate. Another issue of timing with these crops is to extend your harvest despite the efforts of nasty critters like the squash vine borer and cucumber beetles. Cucumber plants do not typically live through an entire summer. I find it is best to plant them in late May, then sow more seeds in July or early August so that when my earlier planted cukes die, the new plants are now big enough to keep me in good supply of slicers and picklers. Beans should also be planted in mid-late May, then another planting in July to ensure a steady harvest of beans all summer and early fall.
The Squash Vine Borer (SVB) is my arch nemesis when it comes to growing hollow stemmed curcurbits. You can spray them, hunt for their eggs, slice open the stems and remove the larvae by hand, but at one point, these monsters will kill your squash plants. To get a continuous harvest of squash, I beat them with timing. I KNOW that these monsters are going to kill my squash plants in July or early August. I just accept the fact that they are going to do this and start new plants in containers in mid-July. As soon as the dreaded day comes that I find my squash plants wilted and dying a quick death, I yank them out of the ground, toss them in a 5 gallon bucket of water to drown the larvae and put a new plant in the place of the deceased one. This new plant is safe from the SVB as their breeding cycle is over and I get to eat zucchini all year long with just a brief break in between harvests as my new plant takes root and begins to set fruit.
Ok…now get your calendars out and start managing the timing of your gardens! Here is a great link from the KC Community Gardens that will help you manage your garden timing: http://www.kccg.org/gardening/calendar