Cookin', Critters and Chillun

Planting tomatoes on May 15

There’s a common wisdom around these parts that you should wait until Mother’s Day to plant your tomatoes – or May 1, or May 15, depending on how you were raised, in order to outwait the last official frost date and here lately, freeze date.

Most people have been itching to get something in the ground before now, and so probably, they were out with bushel baskets, old sheets or, in the case of one family I saw, wine boxes over tender plants to protect them from the 30-something degrees we had at night in Salem earlier this week.

Near freezing at night, then projected 86 degrees on Wednesday. Have you ever seen such weather?

At our house we’ve given up planting many vegetables because we live in the woods and don’t have enough sun once that multitude of tulip poplar, white oak, red maple and other hardwood leave burst forth with a vengeance, particularly this year.

One day we could see Fort Lewis Mountain; the next, we had an ocean of green. It’s a little claustrophobic, with such a sudden change.
I overheard somebody talking about planting her garden on Tuesday. She had three different kinds of tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, and other tender plants. I’m sure the neighborhood groundhogs were salivating.

I’ve replaced our old, woody thyme, planted a pot of “sterile chives” which I suppose means they don’t seed all over the place, and put in cilantro – with fear and trepidation, because of the weather forecasters’ warnings.

I’m still waiting to put out basil, because, one herbalist says, if you plant basil while the night-time temperatures drop below 50, the plant will be stunted.

Hmmmm. Wonder if the basil knows that. I do know it will blacken quickly if it gets too cold, so I’m biding my time.

A few people have been coming by the Salem Farmers’ Market on Saturdays during the winter, asking where all the vegetable vendors were. I tried not to laugh, and explained “Not many vegetables grow outside during the winter around here.”

But people are hungry for fresh vegetables and fruits. Rodney Smith says he can’t keep fresh spinach on his table, people buy it so fast. And shoppers were grabbing Jim Washenberger’s asparagus for the last three weeks. Dede Noble’s collards went fast, too. Jim’s kale, which is THE vegetable now because of its anti-oxidant properties and the publicity around it, fairly flew off the table. It’s gone to seed now, but there will be more in cooler weather.

Sandra Greenwood had strawberries for about a minute. I’m sure somebody will have more, but you’d better get there early, like 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

A second local market is the Catawba Valley Farmers’ Market, which is opening today, Thursday, May 16, from 3:30-7 p.m. on Catawba Creek Road (Rt. 779) in Roanoke County near the Catawba Post Office. Local vendors will have whatever they’ve been growing in hoop houses and outdoors. Eat local. Yum!

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