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Chris Hardie for Agri-View

Our upside-down spring weather this year hasn’t fueled gardening ambitions so far, but the show must go on.

At least that’s what my wife Sherry told me recently when she decided it was time to plant part of the vegetable garden. Despite the fact that our native robins require chiropractic care due to all the snow that has fallen on their backs and we still have many frosty mornings, it is perfect weather to plant cool season crops.

To quote from “Cold season plants germinate in cold soil and mature in cool weather and short daylight periods, meaning they are perfect for early spring sowing. Pea, onion and lettuce seeds germinate in as little as 35 degrees Fahrenheit, which means they can go into the soil once it’s thawed and workable.”

Other vegetables germinate in soil as cold as 40 degrees, including root vegetables and leafy greens such as turnips, carrots, turnips, cabbage, spinach, broccoli and, of course, potatoes. It’s garden lore to plant potatoes on Good Friday, a tradition that began in the 17th century when potatoes were just arriving in Europe.

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Apparently there was some concern that there was something wicked and horrid about these eyed bulbs, so it was thought planting on Good Friday would be a form of protection – with the added benefit of sprinkling a little holy water over them. Our taters were actually planted on Holy Wednesday, so hopefully we can redeem some of that Holy Week blessing.

But I’m jumping because the chances of planting a garden between snow, rain and a spring hailstorm looked pretty slim when one day we had time to clear the garden of the previous year’s debris and prepare the soil.

At first it was a lot of raking and pulling up stalks of root vegetables left over from last year. They were arranged in heaps and carefully burned with a water hose at the ready.

That turned out to be the easy part compared to the tillage. Normally this is easily done with the help of our 24 year old rototiller, which was kept in a shed for the winter. I pulled it out, put in fresh gas and started it on the second pull.

If only it had kept going. It ran for 10 seconds and died. I had trouble with the beast this past summer and almost every time had to pull the gas tank to start the fuel flow. I tried this trick four times – and I even installed a new gas cap – but it didn’t work.

I had a choice to make. Swear and bitch for a few hours to get the tiller going, or do something else. I didn’t want to repeat my feat from a few years ago by trying to break new ground with the hand cultivator from Mesopotamian days, so I went with plan B.

Of course, that wasn’t without its challenges. Nothing comes assembled these days so I had to round up some wrenches, decipher some instructions and hold my breath. But an hour later, the shiny new toy started the second train. And aside from the momentary shutdown until I removed the rock that was wedged in the drill bit, it worked fine.

So the harvest of the cold season is in the ground. Next comes the rest of the veggies when the threat of frost has passed, which is late May for us.

And apparently – so I’m told – I’ve already bought my Father’s Day present.

This is an original article written for Agri-View, an agricultural publication owned by Lee Enterprises based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit for more information.

Chris Hardie and his wife Sherry raise animals and crops on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 and is a former member of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and past president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Email comments to [email protected]