It has come. The official last frost date for New Orleans in this our lord's year 2016 is February 19th.
Plant your tomatoes! Plant your Peppers! Plant Your Cucumbers! Plant your Basil! Plant whatever you want! You need fear the cold never again!
That’s what ‘they’ want you to think, that it’s all good, that everything’s under control and the powers that be control the weather just fine and you need never want for anything, especially not intuition or a regular and ever-adaptive analysis of your surroundings.
And they’re pretty much right. I listen to them. I heed the last frost date as gospel, fundamental, irrevocable, Truth.
I am a fool for doing so, but it is the eager heart of the gardener that beats in my chest and screams ecstacy into the heat of the Spring sun.
Frost dates are determined a year or more in advance by meteorologists, farmer almanac kooks, astrologists and other oracular future-casters of dubious scientific background, but they are by and large reasonably accurate. If you are not of a gambling nature it is best to wait a week or so after the frost date to actually get Spring plants and seeds in the ground, but as of my writing this it has been about a week, so you’re probably good to go without betting the farm at this juncture.
All this to say, frost dates are accurate but not that accurate. Pay attention to them but do as I say, not as I do. Approach the date with circumspection each and every year, then plant accordingly.
Meantime, presently, you’re in the clear. It’s Springtime in New Orleans. Let loose the heat loving plants upon your raised earth.
A Treatise and a Sales Pitch: Why Southobund Gardens Plant Starts are Small, and Other Reasons our Plants are so Exceptional
When placed side by side to other similar contained foodstuffs in the garden center, the plants that we grow here at Southbound Gardens can seem pitiably small. The uninformed consumer of plant starts and many an informed consumer as well will automatically reach for the bigger thing that costs the same amount of money or less. This is what we do, for are we are not Americans? Even discounting the fact of our unfortunate cultural predilections, the intuitive inclination towards larger vegetable starts is understandable. The internal argument basically assumes that bigger means older and therefore closer to maturity and edibility, and bigger also means stronger and better able to handle the rigors of climate, insect and whatever other hardships life in the ground may present.
This is wrong. Our small plants are better. Way better. let me explain the myriad ways in which this is irrefutably and without exception true.
Let us begin by exploring what it is that makes other vegetable plants so much larger and greener than ours. There are two primary factors lending the plants such apparently incredible prowess over our little local starts; these catalysts are fertilizer and painfully artificial environments.
The fertilizer used by most plant growers is inorganic and derived from petroleum. You may or may not have druthers regarding this fact, but it is not my crunchy worldview that accounts for the inferiority that I claim these vegetables to have. Petroleum based fertilizers are powerful beasts that offer insanely huge amounts of nitrogen, the primary ingredient in leaf growth for plants of all stripes. A plant that is fed an extreme diet of petroleum-based fertilizer will grow rapidly and will flush deep green, to all appearances seeming a most beneficent plant to put in one’s garden.
Here’s the kicker though: that plant is going to collapse immediately in your care if you are not willing to feed it a rigorous diet on a regular basis. It has become unreasonably dependent on huge amounts of fertilizer and has very little capacity to grow on its own terms, as it has only known unregulated gorging on artificial nutrients its entire life. This is not the plant you want to eat.
Our plants are certainly fed nutrients, but of a different sort, and at a different pace. They are given a steady but somewhat meager diet of fish emulsion to help with their general growth in a healthy way and at a reasonable pace. They are also fed every couple of weeks with a booster shot of liquid kelp and bat guano, which is loaded with the micronutrients that will be coursing through them for the rest of their lives, giving them a strong immune system able to withstand many a pest and disease. Additionally, our plants are grown in a soil that is loaded with mycohhrizal fungi and other probiotic bacteria that will help enhance the soil ecosystem surrounding the plant’s root system in the short term and provide inoculation to your dirt that will last in the long term and thrive so long as your garden shall live.
You are supposing likely that I am going to argue for the ‘localness’ of our plants in regards to environment, and if you are supposing this, you are a little bit right. And you should support your local businesses. And plants that are born and bred locally are going to do way better round these parts, especially if they are grown from saved seed and are many generations deep in this climate. The thing is, even plants that are grown here in New Orleans or in the surrounding area are often grown in horrifically artificial climates.
Ours are not. We shelter our plants in non-acclimatized hoop houses that do serve to protect our young plants from the crueler tribulations of the world, such as wind, driving rain, wild cats and wild caterpillars. Our greenhouses provide controlled water and help ensure that the plants receive plenty of sunlight. We have ourselves a controlled environment designed to optimize our plants’ chances of success not just as they grow with us but also as they leave us.
Many, if not most commercial growing operations work their magic indoors where climate is controlled and lighting is artificial. Plants grown under these conditions are not ready for the sun’s heat nor brilliance and will often falter soon after they are let loose from their childhood homes.
Finally, let us revisit the issue of size in a different light. Potted plants that appear to be thriving in their small pots because of their gargantuan size often will not grow the least bit once introduced to your garden because they have become rootbound in their tiny potted, overly long-lived homes. If a plant lives too long in a pot its root system will overtake every tiny corner of space allowed in that pot, begin to grow thick roots, and essentially lose its ability to ever become anything more.
We get our plants to market at a time in their lives when their roots are strong in number and fierce in will, but have not nearly grown to the point where they have been forced to fight one another for space in their pots. They are primed to continue growing outwards (as opposed to inwards) when they make it into a larger dirt-filled ecosystem. The plants that we sell to garden centers are of such an age as well, so that if they do not fly off the shelves in their first days on display they will not quickly degrade into a lesser product unfit for the world you want to bring them into.
Vegetable plants at garden centers that are derived from a nursery of a lesser caliber than ours often come onto the shelves looking incredible; they are lush, verdant, upright and eager to please, but within a couple of days they become leggy, pale and droopy. They hit their prime long before they ever got a chance to become somebody’s food, when they were still living in some greenhouse eating ungodly amounts of nitrogen on the daily, waiting for the week when they would look just perfect enough to sell to the uncanny consumer.
Our plants don’t do that. Our plants are fed well on a steady, but lean diet. Our plants find their place in the world as soon as they have the legs to carry them. Our plants have had youthful experiences that have prepared them for the world no matter what may come. Our plants can’t make it without you, but they don’t need you to hold their hand. Our plants are a little bit smaller on the outside, but what lies beneath their soil’s surface is infinitely more complex, resilient and ready to take on the world without fear or second thought. Buy local, buy organic, buy our babies.
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.