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Don’t let old wife’s tales determine when you plant

Some years back there was a complimentary joke among cotton farmers when it was still a bit early for spring planting but that time was drawing nigh.

Someone would wisecrack that So‘nSo “could drive his pickup truck down the road with a sack of seed in the back and half the farmers in the county would  start planting.” 

It was a compliment acknowledging So’nSo’s farming decisions were held in esteem and if he was going to get started planting, it must be time.

Years later we had an “official” university recommendation that cotton planting should commence when the soil temperature at two inches of depth was 70 degrees or higher at 8 a.m. for three consecutive days with an outlook for warm days to follow. 

I knew of a few farmers that tested the morning soil temperature two inches down a time or two to see how that method compared with So’nSo getting started.   Nowadays there are weather websites that provide soil temperatures for different farm areas.

Like cotton, most of the spring-planted vegetables we grow in local gardens need the soil as well as the air to be warm. This has been the perfect spring to learn that February and March air temperatures staying above freezing does not mean we can plant much earlier than normal and expect good results. We should never think seed will “keep” just as well in cold garden soil as it would in a refrigerator. Two big differences; for one, refrigerator temperature is constant 24/7 while soil temps rise and fall a lot every day. Secondly, seed in a frost free refrigerator is not going to get enough moisture to sprout while moisture in spring soil will always be available. It takes two things for seed to germinate; enough moisture and the right temperature. There is no need for sunlight, soil or fertilizer for seed to merely germinate, i.e. sprout. So seed planted too early won’t sprout for lack of adequate temperature but will imbibe water erratically, which causes a loss of vigor. Eventually some seeds will get too puny to come up. 

We Bible Belt gardeners know the time to plant vegetables is Good Friday. Well, I admit I don’t adhere to the Good Friday planting rule, the date being determined by a full moon and not temperature. And the Good Friday date varies so much, being April 14 this year but three weeks earlier last year.

Personally, I suggest using a vegetable garden planting guide specific for this weather zone such as the one developed by Mississippi State University. Combine that with the current and near term weather report and your own gut feeling.  Just don’t let an amateur trick you into planting too early. And don’t let a veteran garden neighbor get too far ahead. It’s a pride thing.

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.