A Garden Blog by Kevin Milaeger

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What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?
April 16
, 2015     
(See below for archives)
Everyone is anxious for the spring planting season. After a couple of warm days in early April customers start asking for tomato plants. Of course, it’s way too early to plant them outdoors but some folks want to put them on their windowsill, I guess. We always have a limited number of tomato varieties available for early-bird customers. We can’t talk to every customer about the futility of planting the garden too early (especially with plants of subtropical origin, such as tomatoes) but we try to get the message across. Last year I stopped at a local grocery store that was selling tomato plants in April. The plants were stored outdoors. I made several trips to the store over the course of a week, and it was a cool week. Here is a photo of the last tomato plant that remained. I feel sorry for the person that ended up buying it. Although alive, it will be stunted and so its growth will be well behind smaller plants planted at the correct time. The purple coloring of the stems and leaves is a sure sign of stunting. The worst part of this scenario is that the person who bought it will end up having a bad gardening experience and may sour on gardening entirely. That would be sad indeed.

Well, if it’s too early for tomato plants, then what can I plant? you might ask. There is much you can plant safely. Anything in the cabbage family---cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, and others. Virtually any lettuce (the lettuce and “cabbagy” plants can be grown from seed or from starter plants.) Other greens such
as kale or Asian greens like pak choi. Anything in the onion family, including regular globe onions, scallions (green table onions), leek, shallots, chives, and garlic. I usually plant all of these from bulbs or young plants. From seed it’s time to plant radishes, beets, and peas. Many herbs can be planted, for example oregano, mint, sage, parsley and thyme. The ever popular basil is the most obvious exclusion---basil is probably the most weather sensitive plant we offer---sometimes June 1st is too early! Other plants that you should definitely wait on include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and beans (all of subtropical origin. 

April 27th is the average last frost date here in Racine. That is about ten days from now, and the forecast for those ten days also shows no frost, with the lowest night temperature being in the mid 30’s. I’m optimistic, but cautious. Just because it doesn’t freeze doesn’t mean the plants will be happy. There is no surefire method to determine the best date for a particular plant. But  you can start with is a quick Wikipedia search of a given plant to determine where in the world it is native to. If it is from colder climes, it may well be tolerant of cool weather. If it is of tropical origin, it is much less likely to tolerate cool temperatures. This is only a start---there are a number of plants that don’t follow this rule. One is asparagus. People think that because they pick it “wild” along the railroad tracks that it is native here; it is not. It is native to much of Europe, but also North Africa and western Asia. Because the Greeks were some of the first people to write about asparagus, it is sometimes assumed to be native there; it is, but its range is much greater than just Greece. The ancient Egyptians grew it, but it didn’t arrive in northern Europe until the 1500’s. This sort of information is fascinating to me, partly because the story is never fully known---new facts come to light every once in a while.


It is relatively easy to deal with the cold tolerant plants in April; after all, they are cold tolerant. Much more problematic are the tropical/subtropical plants that are usually planted in May. There is much less room for error when planting them out, particularly with the mid-May threat of the “Three Icemen,” also known as the “Ice Saints.” Never heard of them? As with much of European folklore, their hazy history has many versions, depending on which country or region you might be from. The three principal Ice Saints are Mamertus (May 11), Pancras (May 12), and Servatius (May 13.) There is a blurred rumor of a fourth, Sophia, who is part of the tradition in Germany and other countries. It all boils down to a likely cold snap in mid-May. I first heard the story in the 1960’s from an old time greenhouseman in Milwaukee. He was rather vague about the “Icemen,” as he called them, simply telling me to be wary of them, and then raising his eyebrows.

Many of you have visited the Great Lakes Farmers Market that we have been hosting at our Douglas Avenue location since last fall. The market will be moving from our expo greenhouse out into the sunshine on April 26----it will be located on our nursery lot, at the north end of our property. The east end of the market will be just a few steps from our vegetable trial garden. I’d like to invite you in for a visit to the garden on Sunday, April 26. I’ll be in the garden, explaining what we are doing from 11am-12noon for sure, maybe longer. Please stop by and see what’s happening in our garden!

Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.

Archives  (Click on the green text for links)

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015


September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now

February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet


October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 Blog, Video and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow

September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012- My Tomato Garden
May 2012 - Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2011 -Tomatomania Review 
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
Summer 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review 
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review 
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com