Gina Covina: Is anything gained by starting vegetables early?

Apples and pears are blooming – here’s Pink Pearl apple

Laughing Frog Farm

Is anything gained by starting vegetables early? Lucinda set up an experiment to answer this question some forty years ago. She planted seeds of various vegetables at one-week intervals, and charted their performance and yields over the entire season. Results across the board: no advantage in starting early.

“So does that mean you’ve never since tried to get a jump on the season?” I ask her.

“Well, no,” she admits.

I too find premature planting irresistible in spite of all past experience. Last year our sweet peppers, started in early April and transplanted to the hoop house in early May, just sat there dumbfounded in the cold, unable to grow at all. Finally we replaced most of them in early June with younger more vigorous starts that had never known the chill of April. Did we start the peppers later this year? Yes, but only by a week. And I’m moving them to the hoop house tomorrow, when night temperatures rise into the 40s for at least a few days.

We’ve planted out forty tomatoes (half the total), and Lin direct-seeded half the Dark Star zucchini a few days ago. Its sprouts emerged yesterday – that’s a month earlier than I’ve ever planted squash here. We’ll see how Dark Star lives up to its reputation as cold-tolerant.

There’s always the slight chance that this year we won’t have a May frost – and the greater probability that when it comes, we’ll remember all the many plants to shroud in row cover or overturned pots or old sheets. We’re more likely to remember after last year’s hard freeze on May 15, which killed 30-some tomato plants, in the hoop house with a length of row cover folded up beside them, ready to use but forgotten.

I don’t insist on planting everything too early. I’m prudent with beans, corn, melons, and most squash – I know they won’t even germinate without warm soil, and once it does warm up, they’re fast growers. Tomatoes are tempting, though. A fresh swirly slice of Big Rainbow in mid-August rather than mid-September – that’s worth the extra trouble of covering and uncovering, of re-checking the forecast several times a day, of fretting in the night.
Mendocino Seed Growers Co-op

Vegetable varieties being grown for seed in 2012 (as of April 28)


Rattlesnake (pole green bean—Laytonville)

Yellow Romano (pole—Laytonville)

Orca (aka Yin-Yang, bush soup bean—Laytonville)

Blue Coco (pole green bean—Laytonville)

Cannellini (bush soup bean—Laytonville)

Hutterite (soup bean—Ukiah)

Cow Mountain (pole bean—Ukiah)




New Mama (super-sweet—Laytonville)

Riverspirit Rainbow (flour—Laytonville)

Hopi Blue (flour—Ukiah)

Rose Potpourri (popcorn—Ukiah)


Shintokiwa (Laytonville)

Armenian (Willits)


Giant Bulgarian (Ukiah)


Sweet Baby (romaine—Westport)

Divina (butterhead—Laytonville)


Haogen muskmelon (Laytonville)

Crane muskmelon (Laytonville)

Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon (Laytonville)

Early Moonbeam watermelon (Laytonville)


Delicious Habitante (soup—Laytonville)


Feherozon paprika (Laytonville, Gina & Lin)


Hailstone (Ukiah, Steven)


Dark Star zucchini (C. pepo— Laytonville)

Benning’s GreenTint (C. pepo—Willits)

Delicata Zepellin (C. pepo—Laytonville)

As yet unnamed pumpkin for edible hull-less seeds (C. pepo—Laytonville)

Styrian pumpkin for edible seeds (C. pepo—Ukiah)

Thelma Sanders (winter, C. pepo—Ukiah)

Potimarron (winter, C. maxima—Ukiah)

Blue Kuri (C. maxima—Laytonville)

Trombetta (C. moschata—Laytonville)

Waltham Butternut (C. moschata—Laytonville)


Mountain Gold (Laytonville)

Tennessee Heirloom (Laytonville)

Principe Borghese (Laytonville)

Japanese Black Trifele (Laytonville)

Big Rainbow (Laytonville)

Amish Paste (Laytonville)