I believe this February has been the warmest one I can ever remember. Here in North Carolina, we have had many days in the 60’s and 70’s, and a couple of days at nearly 80 degrees! The cherry blossoms have been in bloom for weeks, the daffodils are running riot, and the buds on many of the spring blooming shrubs are swelling to bloom. Some of the cherry trees and Bradford pears are starting to leaf out. This is very worrisome, not only for the health of the trees and plants involved, but for the success of those who farm and garden our food crops. Whether commercial or personal, fruit vines and trees, vegetables, and herbs are in some cases up to a month ahead of schedule. Peach trees are blooming and will soon set fruit, which could easily be killed by a hard frost. This is also a problem because after fall and winter, we are lulled into a false sense of spring. We have had 3 weeks (at least!) of warm, mild weather and nights in the 40’s or above (for the most part.) In this area, though, the last average frost date is still seven weeks away! The box stores and nurseries already have vegetable plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash available. DON’T BE TEMPTED!! Although the warmth of this February has been unusual, it is still very early to plant summer vegetables. It is not, however, too early to start seeds. With the warmth of the days and relatively warm nights, by the time spring REALLY arrives, garden plants will be well developed to transplant.
It is very easy and takes very little time to build a cold frame with bales of straw and a couple of used window frames from Habitat ReStore. Find a sunny spot near your garden, cover the grass or weeds with a few layers of newspaper or cardboard. Use bales of straw around the edges and put your plant trays (sprouted and with true leaves on them) inside. Place the window on top of the straw bales as a cover. It is a good idea to also have a couple of pieces of 2×4 to use to prop the window open when the weather is warm. If not, the air inside can get very warm very quickly. Keep the new plants gently watered, and if you see there is a danger of severe cold, bring the plants inside for protection until the danger is over.