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Microclimate: A Carlsbad Senior Garden Center member, Chris, separates rows of recently planted lettuce to divide among the class.
A Carlsbad Senior Garden Center member, Chris, separates rows of recently planted lettuce to divide among the class. Photo by Jano NIghtingale
Columns Jano's Garden

Take time to learn about your microclimate

Growing up in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan, my friends and I sat for hours in the summertime on the sandy beach watching thunderstorms coming in from Michigan.

Lighting often struck on the horizon almost one hundred miles away, and we would giggle with joy and we took our feet out of the cold water, thinking we might be the next lightning rod!

Living on the lake taught me how to observe changes in weather and how it affects our lives. My Dad had a small rock garden at our cottage but had little success with annuals that needed lots of heat and sunlight.

Our little coastline was often beset with the same gray, cool weather that abounds here in Carlsbad in June.

Although the Wisconsin Lake Michigan summer weather was cool, just up the hill two miles away was beautiful farmland where a local farm sold the best sweet corn and tomatoes we had ever tasted! 

CHECK YOUR LOCAL WEATHER AND ZONAL AREA

Now, as a gardener on the West Coast, I have learned to “watch the weather,” and to try to predict the upcoming spring planting season.

The ongoing fallacy that “it’s always sunny here, San Diego has the perfect weather” is not necessarily true.

This is the time of year when everyone I meet who knows that I am a gardener asks me the question, “What can I plant now?”

Since I, too, am a transplant from a very cold climate, I have to research all the best plants as well as climate conditions for the pre-Spring March we have before us.

The site that I use the most is the San Diego Master Gardener website which, free of charge, will give you all the charts, and specific cultural conditions for each of 50 vegetables.

Another valuable source for planting information is from a local company, San Diego Seed Company. Owner, Brigette Pena offers weekly YouTube presentations on her webpage on a weekly basis. Check her out! Her weekly columns featured on her webpage on Thursdays and Fridays, provide timely and strictly local advice about “what to plant now.”

HOLD OFF ON THOSE TOMATOES

My students at the Pine Street Community Senior Garden in Carlsbad have been planting a wider variety of salad greens and preparing the beds for tomato and pepper season.

The mistake that many gardeners make at this time of year is to fall for the allure of the incredible variety of tomatoes offered in early March that are often grown in warmer climates, then shipped to many of the larger garden centers.

As a result, I prefer to shop at smaller local garden centers that receive products each week from local growers that will be acclimated to our changeable weather.

According to my colleague at SUNY Cobleskill School of Agriculture, Professor Chris Cash, “Everyone wants to jump into planting tomatoes too early. If the plants receive the slightest amount of 40-degree nighttime temperature, their growth will be stunted, the buds will fall off and you have just wasted your money!”

According to Hallie, one of the horticulturists at Green Thumb Nursery in San Marcos, “We have lots of varieties available now, but customers have to remember to harden them off at home, taking them indoors at night.”

So, buyer beware, if you must buy now bring them indoors, or wait until they are available in a few weeks, and be ready to plant in late April.

PRODUCTION PLANTING

While working in numerous nurseries, and studying greenhouse management in college, I learned the value of production planting.

My students and I tried this method at the Pine Street Senior Center Community Garden recently and we were pleased with our results.

If you try this method in your raised bed, you will have a plethora of different leafy greens to choose from, and enough to pass on to neighbors or add to a windbox or planted. 

The key is to purchase at least five different varieties of lettuce and leafy greens and look for the largest packages you can find. Many catalogs such as Seeds of Change. Johnny’s Seed Company or Pinetree Garden Seed Company offer packets that contain over an ounce of seed for a reasonable price, whereas many of the local box stores sell packets that weigh much less.

Since there are ten gardeners in our group, we planted long rows of lettuce seeds, with between 50-100 seeds in a row. At first, the amount seemed a little shocking to the students but as the little seedlings popped up, we were greeted with over 100 seedlings, and we had plenty to share.

When they reached the transplanting stage, usually 3-4 inches in height, we all had a field day digging up the rows to be transplanted into their home smaller gardens and window boxes.

Fellow gardeners, enjoy this wonderful early Spring. But keep your thermometers on your porch, and check them every day.

For further information about the Carlsbad Senior Garden, contact the Center at (760) 602-4650.

Contact Jano Nightingale at [email protected] for further gardening questions and to share your latest garden tips for further issues. Read more “Jano’s Garden” columns.

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