Warm weather sparks activity in nature and naturalist alike

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2019

By Michael O. Fine

Rowan Cooperative Extension

SALISBURY — With this exceptionally wet season, this winter seemed to drag along at an exceptionally dull pace. For an avid gardener, wintertime, with its short days and gray overtones, can seem like an adult version of a time-out.

But when a warm, 60+ degree weather pattern blows in for a few days in the middle of the winter, a spark is ignited within farmers and gardeners and the excitement of planning the next season begins.

During the warm, dry weather we just experienced, farmers and gardeners around the county were busy soil testing, applying amendments to the soil to match test results, ordering seeds, plowing garden beds, and seeding greenhouses with the first rounds of early season crops like greens, lettuce, cabbage and broccoli.

One veteran grower showcased a flat of impressive, 5-foot tall tomato plants that will bear their fruits in hoop houses during May. With season extension research continuing to grow at N.C. State and N.C. A&T universities, new techniques are being adopted by farms across the state. A continued trend towards three- and four-season farming is proving productive and profitable for farmers in our area.

A few varieties of vegetables that are worth looking into starting in the next few weeks include members of the brassica family. This family includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi.

For the hobby gardener who grows without an outfitted greenhouse, these vegetable varieties can be propagated indoors now by placing a seed tray beside a south-facing window. A simple shelving unit rigged with fluorescent shop lights can also provide the light and heat (if indoors) requirements to germinate any of the above mentioned vegetable seeds.

Other vegetables such as turnips, spinach, carrots and beets can be sown directly on uncovered beds in the next few weeks. The garden beds that are sown or transplanted over the next month and a half will provide growers with bountiful early season salads as well as hearty root crops and greens during May when most gardeners are just beginning to plant.

Some new cultivars of traditional vegetables that have become local favorites for their texture, taste and adaptability to our climate include savoy and Chinese cabbage varieties. These varieties provide an alternative to the thick, crunchy leaves of traditional stone head type cabbages. While still forming a central head, the leaves remain tender and loose.

The wrinkled texture of savoy cabbage makes it exceptionally well adapted to stir-fries and casseroles. The best part, when a quick cole slaw is called for, these varieties will fill the need quite well.

Another early season vegetable variety worth spotlighting in this article is the recently famous selection of sweet turnips. These small, tender sweet turnips are best when eaten at golf-ball size and can be sowed in the garden in the next few weeks. These turnips mature in roughly 45 days at which time the grower will be able to enjoy a sweet root crop with the texture of a crisp apple. Happy planting!

To learn more, visit this N.C. State Extension web page about planting: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/central-north-carolina-planting-calendar-for-annual-vegetables-fruits-and-herbs

Michael O. Fine can be contacted at Rowan County Cooperative Extension, 704-216-8970.