Spring may not have totally sprung as yet, but it is certainly in the process of springing.
The obvious signs are there. The grass is starting to green up and early flowering trees are in bloom. Maples have been red now for a few weeks and the daffodils are past peak bloom in parts of the area.
The insect world is coming alive. Last week, the railing on my back deck was covered with newly hatched flies getting their acts together, and I noticed the first ants trying to make their way into the house.
Does all this activity at this point in March indicate an early spring? It would appear so, but only time will tell. Of course, after a nothing winter, we don’t have far to go to get to spring.
When I was a teenager, our Sunday school room was on the second floor of a 240-year-old church. Every year, we could tell when spring had really arrived because wasps, which nested in the uninsulated walls of the old building, would emerge and attempt to get out the window—with a dozen teenage boys slapping at them with Sunday school books.
If you’re using insects as a calendar, the flies come first, followed by ants, wasps and then carpenter bees. These are the guys that look like bumblebees that chew into the boards of your house and leave little piles of sawdust behind.
These carpenter bees are famous for hovering like helicopters. When I was a boy, we would shoot at them with BB guns as they hung there in mid-air. Now, I go out every spring and swing at them with a baseball bat. They are quick and they give you great practice at hitting a curve ball. Tennis racquets, however, are much more effective.
Soon after the carpenter bees arrive—about the time of the last frost—the rest of the insect world comes active.
There have been rumors that this will be a 17-year-locust (cicada) year, but that’s not true in our area. These insects, however, are scheduled to emerge in areas from Blacksburg south to Martinsville and into northern North Carolina. Different broods emerge in different years.
Groundhogs have been out now for several weeks. Actually, the winter was so mild that woodchucks really didn’t hibernate for long periods of time and could often be seen out looking for sprigs of green grass on sunny January and February afternoons.
I have a feeling this is going to be a terrible spring for those of us with allergies. Every early plant in the field adjacent to my house is blooming, and I have been sneezing my head off. I hate to tell you, but it is only going to get worse. During the next 60 days, pollen will be everywhere, so get ready.
If temperatures continue to warm, we could start to see peach blossoms this week. Yes, it is very early, but I have already seen buds on some trees along the mountain ridges in nearby Rappahannock County. Apple trees may not be far behind.
Early blooms are a cause for concern for orchardists. A hard freeze is still possible through the middle of April and extreme cold—temperatures below 25 degrees—can do much damage. Still, the trees are going to bloom when they are ready. Nature works on its own schedule.
There seems to be no cold weather anywhere right now, so maybe this would be a good year to take a chance on some early tomatoes. No, I don’t mean that you should transplant now, but you might be OK if you set some plants out around the second week of April.
I don’t advise setting out your whole crop, but just one or two that you can cover in case of frost. No, they are not going to mature until hot weather arrives, but the roots could get established and you might get a three-week start on other tomato growers. Getting that first tomato is worth the risk.
I’m going to take a chance and plant at least a fourth of my crop by the middle of April. Here in the western Piedmont, that’s taking a big risk because the threat of frost is not past until at least May 10. Still, I have a feeling that we will not have a killing frost after April 15. But then, I have been wrong before.
Just remember, however, it is never safe to put those long pants away until about May 20. That’s when the hot weather (temperatures 80 or above) usually sets in for good.
There have already been a few days when I have been able to wear shorts.
Bring on the bugs and the heat.