Get those taters going; use polytunnel to help along the other plants

The Island Garden


I know you are itching to get outside and plant your garden, but it is still too cold.

The only plants you should grow right now are potatoes.

Red, purple, fingerlings, Yukon gold or Kennebecs can go in the ground right now. There’s a saying in England that you should get your potatoes planted by St. Patrick’s Day.

In the United States, it would be more appropriate to use around Easter as the deadline. I usually wait until the chives start to show green shoots before I plant the fingerlings. My chives are already about 6 inches tall, and my potatoes are in the ground.

Most beginning gardeners start with tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, but they are warm-weather plants that need to have a ground temperature of at least 50 degrees, preferably 60 degrees, before you set them. The temperature at night should be at least 55 degrees before tomatoes will even consider setting fruit.

To get large tomato plants ready to go into the ground by mid-May, it is too late to start seeds. You should probably buy your plant at this stage.

As for peppers and eggplants, wait at least until mid-May before putting these hot-weather plants in the garden.

To increase your chances of success in cold ground, you can set your plants in a polytunnel, a cold frame or use a cloche to cover your plants and raise the surrounding temperature.

Polytunnels usually are made from curved pipes thrust into the ground and covered with a plastic cover. The cover is partly buried along the edges to prevent it from blowing away. A cold frame usually is a rectangular structure with a glass top (and sometimes glass sides).

The advantage of a cold frame is that the top can be lifted to allow hot air inside to escape. Polytunnels need to have the plastic peeled back on hot days and that can be near impossible if you are not home during the day. A cloche has a slight opening at the top to allow hot air to escape, but it doesn’t keep night-time temperatures as high as the other methods.

A polytunnel or a cold frame only will raise nighttime temperatures by 3 to 5 degrees and a cloche only 1 or 2 degrees. The big advantage of all of these methods is they prevent the wind from blasting your plants and as we know, in spring around here, the winds can be quite strong.

The best plants to start now in any of the above are greens. For example, if you want early lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage and other greens, they can be planted using any of the protective methods mentioned above.

When starting greens, give a thought to how many plants you can eat. I have planted an entire packet of lettuce only to have 40 heads of lettuce ready to eat at the same time.

Start a few seeds, wait a week or two and start a few more seeds. That way you won’t feed the neighborhood bunny population.