We’ve been having a bit of “Mayhem” this month with the weather extremes. We started out the month with a snowstorm that left us with 6″ of snow by May 3rd, although some locales not too far from us had 15″ or more. Then less than a week later, we had well over an inch of rain and some very large sleet on the 11th. A couple of mornings of frost followed, entirely “normal” for us at this time of year. But the next day had temps in the low 90’s. Then more rain.
It’s been even more of a challenge to fit gardening into this roller coaster ride of a season than ever in the past. We started out May being quite behind in early gardening work since we had 7 snowy days in April. Feeling like we were about a month behind where we’d like to be, we worked like crazy to attempt to make up for lost time. Now the sudden heat and warm rains have meant that Mother Nature is also sprinting ahead. Much of spring is now on fast forward with the fruit trees blossoming in quick succession, their pruning having been finished earlier this week.
While this mad dash is taking place, it’s important to maintain flexibility in the garden plans to accommodate the shift in timing. A couple of examples come to mind of changes that we set in place this past week. We had planned on planting our Roy’s Abenaki Calais flint corn in mid June in order to have it not contaminated with pollen from the neighbor’s field corn, both for seed purity and our preference to not eat GMO (genetically modified organisms). Armed with “growing degree day” calculations and notes from prior years on our corn and the neighbor’s fields, we thought we had worked out a plan that would give us the best window for maturing a crop without cross pollination. However, the weather has also been affecting the farmer’s field work, both with the late snows and the wettest spring on record for our area. They are also 3-4 weeks behind schedule which means that our flint corn couldn’t be planted in mid June and mature a seed crop in time and leave time for our late sweet corn crop as well. So we shifted gears and soaked our corn seed on May 10th, finished soil prep in the corn beds, and planted out the just germinating seed on May 12th. We spread Remay (row cover) over the beds and crossed our fingers. By May 18th, the corn was up an inch, and our neighboring farmer has yet to get his seed in the ground, with more rain in the forecast meaning additional lag time waiting for fields to dry enough for heavy tractors and equipment. Working on a gardening scale means that we have much more opportunity to work after a rain as we don’t have to wait for the soil to be as dry.
Another example of changing plans happened on Thursday. We normally plant our many varieties of dry bush and pole beans in mid May, but due to everything being delayed we had set May 24th as the target date. But on Thursday we had the soil ready and the trellises were already in place. The weather forecast predicted several days of rain. More rain could further delay planting plans, but if the seed is already in the ground the rain becomes a valuable resource, necessary for germination, rather than a hindrance. So we worked all day and got everything planted. As long as the weather continues on a warmer trend, we should be OK. If we get another frost before the month’s end, we’ll have to cover any beans or other warm season crops that are vulnerable. But this is a “normal” part of gardening in Minnesota and a risk we are used to handling.
As we were charting a course through these obstacles, I was thinking of gardeners who are more novice than the two of us. Kudos to those of you who are taking up gardening of late as it’s an increasingly harder task than in the past as far as weather goes. As we remember it, seed went in the ground, rarely got watered, and things grew without much help other than weeding. Now the challenges seem to begin as soon as the season turns, whenever that actually happens. Wishing all of you good growing this year.