For Release April 24, 2001

Mother Nature Has Her Own Calendar

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

The human species is a creature of habit. We like to do things in a set way at a set time. We like calendars. We love calendars! We like to be able to write things into our day planners or Palm Pilots and have a little alarm that goes off to remind us that it is time to do something.

Mother Nature laughs at us. She has her own calendar and it is always changing. About the only thing we can say for certain about Mother Natureís calendar is that we know which two days of the year the sun crosses the equator and what two days of the year the sun reaches itís northern and southern most point. These four days mark the official (a human trait) transition from one season to another. But thatís about all we can say about those four days.

What most members of the human race need to learn, is that the minute they step from their little calendar driven world of exact dates and times into Mother Natureís world, they need to throw their calendar out the window. Humans need to learn how to read Mother Natureís calendar. Otherwise they will become very frustrated with the results.

We can calculate long term averages of certain natural events. Based on local records since 1951, we know that the average last date, of a 32 degree thermometer reading, is April 16th. The earliest in the year that this event has happened is march 18th and the latest it has happened is May 14th. We also know that if you have a garden that sits in a low spot, and it is a calm morning, you can have frost with temperatures as high as 35 or 36 degrees. In the plant world average frost dates donít mean much.

What this broad range of last frost dates indicates is that every year is different. Take Sphaeropsis tip blight of Austrian pines, for example. This nagging disease can kill an older pine given enough time. But it is fairly easily controlled with a well timed fungicide application. We need to spray the Austrian pines when the new shoots have elongated to about two inches in length. We say that this is normally the third week in April. As of the start of the 4th week of April, the new shoots are one inch in length or less. They wonít be ready to be sprayed until about the first of May. Had you sprayed the third week in April, you may very well have missed your chance to control the disease.

Many years we can plant potatoes on, or before, St. Patrickís Day. Had you planted potatoes on St. Patrickís Day this year, they may have very well rotted in the ground. The weather was just that cold and wet. All we could do was wait until the ground warmed up and dried out so we could plant our potatoes, onions and peas. Then all we can do is hope that it doesnít turn off too hot too fast so we have a chance to get a good crop.

Spring is late this year. We may wind up close to the long term average for last frost date, but it is still a late spring. You have to learn to read the natural world. The calendar can get us into the ball park, but then we have to start using the plants and the weather for our final determination of when to do what.

Calendars are handy. They organize our lives and help us remember when we need to go to work and when that next appointment is. But we have to remember that calendars are for our lives. For the plants and the natural world around us, we have to learn to use their calendar, or suffer the consequences.


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