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The Mast-Head: A Friend With Seeds

Thu, 03/23/2023 - 10:27

There was a time when I paid close attention to what it said on the backs of seed envelopes. Now, a casually serious but far-from-expert gardener, I know enough to make my own decisions about the timing of when to plant. Inlanders, like the people who run the seed companies, have no clue how things are here at the beach. You can thank the ocean for that.

As a general rule, the last-frost date around here is about April 15. Killing-cold nights can end a week or two earlier or extend into May, of course, but mid-April is the time after which young plants are supposed to be able to survive. Thriving is another matter. With the cooling effect of the ocean, trees do not bud out here until at least two weeks later than they do in New York City.

The accepted target for putting out tomato seedlings here is Memorial Day, but I think this is far too soon, at least for those of us within a mile or two of the shore. This leaves us seed-starters in a pickle. If we follow the packet instructions and begin the plants indoors eight weeks before April 15, that is, mid-February, our tomatoes are up to our knees by the end of May. And even then, it is a little too early, in my opinion, to get them outside uncovered.

None of this has held back the tide of our collective spring madness. An excellent, ambitious gardener I know from around the way ordered thousands of seeds to share. This is exciting, but it also has had me scrambling to collect enough of the black-plastic takeout containers I prefer for germinating. Another friend offered 24 pieces of old window sash from a job site where he was working on Pantigo Road, which I took to make cold frames. The free-seed shelves at the library next door are difficult to walk past without grabbing just one or two. And I have my own seeds saved from last year that I want to get to.

Some time ago, I had what still seems a reasonable idea to limit my gardening to just three or four varieties, such as plum tomatoes, marigolds, cosmos, and parsley. Now I have seedlings in flats whose names I do not even know how to pronounce. I suspect the salt air will sort things out, and for future seasons I’ll know to stick with the survivors. That is one thing that makes gardening — and life, too — so interesting: You never know how it all will turn out.


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