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Warm temps bring planting questions

Mild winter also created problems for Amish in storing ice for summer

March 28, 2012
It was an warm and easy winter for most Hoosiers. Highway departments saved money on road salt and snow plowing, residents saved money on heating their homes, and schools have few, if any, days to make up.

But the warm winter may have a few negative outcomes, as well. Some believe that many insects, including ticks, Japanese beetles, fleas, potato bugs and wasps, will be more plentiful following a warm winter. And some believe a wet spring will follow a warm winter.

The Amish community in Crawford County depends on cold weather to cut the ice it need for its ice-houses from ponds and creeks. This winter was so warm that ice never thickened enough to allow cutting into blocks for storage.

"I was in Missouri last week, visiting relatives," Emanual Bontrager, who lives along Magnolia Road, said. "The Amish there have even brought in tractor-trailer loads of block ice from Wisconsin to hold them over. We looked into buying 300-pound blocks from an ice company in Louisville, but the cost was too high. But we'll get by."

And the mild winter has led many to believe that there will be an early spring, or at least fewer late frosts, and feeds the urge to start gardens sooner than usual. But some people are not quite ready to trust Mother Nature and are avoiding the temptation to put crops in the ground, even while 70-to-80-degree temperatures seemed to be the norm during the last couple of weeks.

"I already have some cold-weather crops out," said Roy Longest, an avid gardener from the Marengo area. "Those include broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. The earlier, the better on those. Peas can be planted through April. And I put out 50 pounds of red potatoes two weeks ago. Onions and radishes can also be planted.

"But you need to watch and plant by the signs. I'm a firm believer in the Old Farmer's Almanac and planting by the right signs, the moon. My dad taught me that. But I'd be careful about putting anything else out right now, even though it's warm and it looks like winter is over. We could still get a heavy frost and you'd have to plant all over again."

Many types of lettuce can be planted early, and some people believe that early spring lettuce tastes better than lettuce grown in warmer weather. Cool, wet springs are perfect for growing lettuce; it won't bolt and can be replanted for two to three crops. But be prepared to offer a little protection if the temperature drops and creates heavy frosts.

"Lettuce really should be planted by now," said Mary Kauffman, of Eckerty, who, with her husband, Les, has a large garden every year. "I used to raise my lettuce in a bed, and it was easier to care for. I usually had Buttercrunch or Black Seeded Simpson. They both do well in cool weather.

"My parents always had a big garden when I was growing up, and we always planted by the signs, the light and dark of the moon. I truly believe it makes a difference. Some people even believe that you need to set fence posts by the signs, as well. I've heard people say that if you dig a posthole at the wrong time, there won't be enough dirt to refill the hole. And they say that you should kill poison ivy by the signs. Then, it won't grow back again."

Spinach is also a good cold-weather crop. It matures quickly, can withstand a frost and can be replanted to extend the harvest. Turnips and rutabagas can handle a heavy frost or even a light freeze. Parsnips actually sweeten during a heavy frost, and garlic can be planted early, as well. Peas thrive in 50-to-60-degree weather.

"But I won't put out things like tomatoes until the 8th or 10th of May," Longest said. "The same goes for sweet corn. If the signs are right, I may try to put out five or six rows of corn in mid-April, but I usually don't do it till May. Of course, I could lose it to a late freeze, but I'll replant it if that happens. But I'm ready to go as soon as I feel I can trust the weather.

"It looks really good right now, but that could change. I put horse manure on my garden last fall, and I'll plow in more this spring. I also add ag lime every other year. In my hot bed, I use horse manure and sawdust mixed with a little dirt, and that works great for tomatoes. If I have to use fertilizer, I use 19-19-19 on about everything. But using horse manure decreases the need for fertilizer."

Kauffman agrees that manure makes a difference.

"Now, I don't use cow manure," she added. "That contains too many weed seeds, and they are preserved a long time in cow manure. But I use a lot of horse and chicken manure. On my tomatoes, I use chicken manure, then I side dress them with a little 12-12-12 fertilizer. When I was growing up, I've seen people drag old rotten logs out of the woods and put them on their garden. My dad and his family didn't have access to fertilizer, so they made do with what they had. My mom is 90 this year, and she still loves to plant her garden. I've seen her put pepper or cornstarch on cabbage to keep bugs away. She says green beans in a can don't taste right, so she plants her own. She will also buy a can of beets and use the juice to help put a red tint around the edges of her daffodils, just to make them pretty.

"Last year, it was so wet in the spring that a lot of my flowers didn't get planted. This year, everything is early and it looks good, but we could still be in for some cold weather and frosts. Looks can be deceiving."

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