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Farmer Folklore: The Last Frost Date

For farmers and gardeners across the region, March 15th (the average last frost date) signals it’s finally time for planting– the beginning of another go at it. As of March 15th, some of us plant out the delicate seedlings that have been holed up in the greenhouse or garage, waiting for the risk of cold soil to pass. Others fire up the tractor and sow acres of their first crop of peas or sorghum.

My grandfather was a farmer. When I first started out farming I wasn’t sure if he was proud of my choice to work in agriculture, or thought me a fool. Most old-timers encourage me to choose another way that’s free from the burdens of Mother Nature and poor pay.

IMG_3828My grandfather Pappy used to tell me that he never planted before April 1st, and I took it to heart. He’d tell the story of how he arrived at his planting date. It’s a sad story about ten acres of tomatoes lost to a late freeze. He’d explain how devastating that was for him; how his father started the plants from seed on their Denton County farm. In my mind the details of that story have grown dim, but Pa, his father, drove some long distance to purchase enough seedlings to start over again.

It seems everyone in the farm and garden circle around here has their own rules about when to plant. Once at Dennis’ Farm Store in Denton, TX, I listened in on a conversation between a few grumpy old growers. One advised to never plant until the mesquite trees set blooms, then Dennis himself chimed in from behind the register to declare that it’s only ok to begin planting the Monday following Easter Sunday. Meanwhile, Mrs. Julia Daly, committee chair of the Coppell Community Garden and one of the most avid gardeners I’ve yet met, planted her tomatoes nearly one month ago—in February! “Just throw a bucket over ‘em,” she said.

My grandfather passed the winter of 2012, my third year of farming. He grew a garden all the way to the end. Since hearing Pappy’s tomato field story I’ve vowed to never plant before April 1st. Although, I think this year could have been an exception. March 15th is coming quick; take the risk if you will! Wishing you all a bountiful season and hoping the last frost is behind us.

Written By: Amanda Austin, Coppell Farmers Market Manager

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