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Beware of "Sprinter"

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Author Topic: Beware of "Sprinter"  (Read 329 times)
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« on: August 11, 2013, 06:59:39 pm »

Gardeners risk cold ambush   

Last updated 05:00 11/08/2013

It's been dubbed "sprinter" - the winter that feels more like spring, but those with green fingers should think twice before rushing into the garden.

The days are getting longer and warmer, and already magnolia trees and daffodils are in bloom, but a sudden cold snap would spell disaster for unprotected baby crops, NZ Gardener editor Jo McCarroll warns.

National Institute of Water and Research (Niwa) figures last week revealed that July was New Zealand's fourth-warmest in record, and temperatures are expected to be higher than usual between August and October.

"It's very tempting to get planting but you just can't beat mother nature, you never know what's going to be in store," McCarroll said.

"You can see an unseasonal blossom in the garden but if there's a cold spell that will be knocked right off."

McCarroll says she's had Orion peaches already appearing at her Auckland home.

But there are some things gardeners can safely do now if their green fingers are itching.

"At this time of year, you're fine to sow beetroot, broad beans, lettuces and radishes - the seed will germinate even though the soil's still quite cold.

"You can plant out seedlings of asparagus, lettuces, silverbeet, spinach and Asian greens too. They're all tough enough to cope if there's a cold snap, and in fact some of those leafy crops don't like it too hot and will bolt to seed at the height of summer.

"You can also start your summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and chillies this month from seed, but you'll need to keep the seed trays inside on a sunny windowsill or in a heated glasshouse.

"All these crops are heat lovers and there's no point planting them out too soon. A cold snap early in their life will knock them back, and even if they survive they'll sulk forever more and won't produce as well. Wait until about October."

This sort of "false Spring" is common in Auckland and places north. It is not unusual to get the only frosts of the year in late August after the daffs have flowered and blossoms are on the trees.
I have been caught out before.
My solution is I now own a soil thermometer - it is currently showing 14 degrees in my cold frame during the day. Warm enough for salad greens but I will be starting my tomatoes, peppers and chillies inside the house in a heated propagator. I won't be planting them outside until the soil temperature is somewhat warmer.

I didn't have a heated propagator last year so it was nearly summer before my peppers were ready to be planted out and then the drought kicked in and slowed them up. I had only picked two red peppers by the time it was winter so I plonked my new cold frame over top to see if that would ripen the green fruit. It worked a treat helped by our mild winter - I am still picking peppers.
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