Thursday, February 10, 2011

February Fakeout

This happens every February throughout the cold climate regions--a warming spell in mid-February following a particularly cold, dreary, snowy, wet spell in January. In Oregon, they call it the February Fakeout: shun the muck boots for the week of warm, sunny temperatures that bring out cyclists! Hikers! Houseplants outside again! Spring is here! Alas, the February fakeout only lasts a week or so, leaving in its wake another 6 weeks of winter weather, potential for huge snow events, and so forth.

So, the Ozarks are in the midst of their February fakeout--five days of above freezing temperatures that will hopefully melt the 5 to 10 inches of snow that blanket much of the area. Down in Elk River Hills country last night, temperatures plummeted to 20 below zero, much below normal. But the next five days look bright and cheery, even pressing the 55 degree mark! (My sad little houseplants are going outside for a bit of natural light and much needed water.)

But we're not finished with winter. It's certainly time to start planning the spring garden, to order seeds, maybe start setting out indoor flats. The rule of thumb I learned when moving to Missouri maintained that loose leaf lettuces should be planted on St. Patrick's Day, mid-March. I'm not sure if that's still the case, but I'll likely plant my kale that day.

Admittedly, I'm still in the learning stages of growing food in the Midwest. (Grouse, grouse, grouse, in New Orleans I could put a seed in the ground every day of the year and it would produce food. I planted black eyed peas on Christmas Eve, Pacman broccoli seeds in July for crops that lasted through March.) My friend Peter says that the climate here is perfect for Cymbidiums--the cool nights, warm days, low humidity: "you can leave them outside under a shade tree all summer!." And my friend Travis harvests bushels and bushels and pantries full of vegetables from his small plot of land outside of St. Louis. We're in the proverbial breadbasket, after all, so the issues I've had with my little compacted soil, loess glacial till probably construction debris from the 1930s yard isn't a good judge of how to garden successfully in the Ozarks.

So, I asked Travis for a short list of vegetable varieties that perform really well in Missouri. The man is an encyclopedia of vegetable gardening knowledge in the area, a master pepper grower of so many different varieties he'd even be able to teach New Orleans growers a few things. A short list of Travis' favorite varieties and some of his vast font of wisdom. But, don't let the week of warm weather fool you into setting out pansies! Cold weather will, undoubtedly, return.

i can't think of many varieties of the plants mentioned that don't do well here. i think you need to work on your soil more. next time you are up this way, go by route 66 landscape supply in pacific and buy some of their compost. it's magic. the main things that don't work well are cabbage and cauliflower. spinach tends to bolt fast unless given some shade. to prolong lettuce harvest switch to planting only speckled romaine types once may sets in. they can handle the heat and humidity better. sorry i am not of more help here, i just can't think of many things that don't grow well because of where we are at. almost always it is soil issues.some of my fav's for yield and taste are
arcadia brocolli
sungold cherry 'maters
persimmon 'maters
missouri loveapple 'mater
joi choi asian greens
gourmet bell peppers
sweet italian peppers
crook neck summer squash
yard long beans
talon onions
those are probably my faves.

the great thing about yard long beans, if you are near the eastern portion of the state, is that japanese beetles won't touch them. harvest when about 18" long. eat like green beans. they make the best dilly beans ever.

also, always remember that pepper plants like to hold hands; meaning that you want the plants crowded together. given ample room, they get lonely and produce only a few small, weak fruits.
stay warm

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