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Arts & Culture

It’s The Most Treacherous Time of the Year

thumbnail_Mike McGrath 'cartoon' colored cropped.jpg
Signe Wilkinson
Courtesy Mike McGrath
Mike (Mr. Mulch) McGrath

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Millions of gardeners are now thinking: Is it safe to plant the crops of summer outdoors yet? To plant or not to plant is ALWAYS the question along with "what ate my tulips?”

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?

Wednesday? Nah — it was predicted to drop into the forties last night out here in the land of tomatoes, peppers and too much garlic. (That would be the ‘ending your sea of troubles’ choice by killing or severely wounding the plants.)

Ah, but nighttime temps are predicted to be a roll of fifties beginning tonight and going forward. (A chance of outrageous fortune!)

But I have never set my tomatoes, peppers and (this year) loofah gourds (may God have mercy on us all) out this early before. It’s not even Mother’s Day yet!

I have always been a June 1 coward. But the nighttime weather looks right (forget outright frost; peppers, tomatoes and such have NO sense of humor about nights in the forties). And I NEED to do something about these furshlugginer loofah gourds that I started on a whim and which have now outgrown and overgrown everything else in the greenhouse — and I started SIX of them before I remembered that they are only slightly less aggressive than pumpkins (the 600 pound gorillas of the garden). If I don’t get these triffids outside soon, I fear they will eat my pepper and tomato starts.

So today is May 11, a date I hope will not live in infamy. But because I have seen it snow on Mother’s Day (other people claimed it was dandelion puff balls flying past, but paranoia leads me to believe it was frozen water), I will hedge my bets. And so, the too many peppers, the many too many tomato starts and those plant-eating gourds (what WAS I thinking?!) will be ‘hardened off’ instead of directly planted.

Typically, this would involve them being taken outside during the day, brought back in at night, back out the next day, etc., until you’re certain that warm nights are here to stay and/or because you have dropped and crushed them all because you didn’t look down at the steps while you were moving them. Or maybe because you did and crashed them into the door instead.

So, in yet another act of cowardly horticulture, they will be taken out to a large table in the middle of my raised beds and wished the best of luck.

No, I will not sleep well tonight. I will be up every hour, opening the bedroom window and calling out “is everybody OK out there? Do you need a blanket?” (Which, by the way, would be a terrible idea.)

No matter what, by the end of the day I will be committed (to my choice of timing, not to the place you were just thinking of, although if the neighbors make enough calls about the guy yelling to his plants every hour, all bets are off.) If my luck holds out, we’ll plant them in the ground in a week or so. If my luck runs as usual, we will bury them in the ground and run to the garden center, who will be out of all the varieties I wanted.)

And you won’t have to wait long to follow the path of this and my other outdoor adventures, as you are reading the first in a series of new YBYG columns created just for Lehigh Valley News.com. See you next Thursday…