Kathy Hanks

The Hutchinson News

Finally, Roman Miller will get a decent night's sleep. With the weather forecast indicating a warm-up this weekend, Miller won't be crawling out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to check on the fires burning in barrels inside his hoop houses in rural Reno County. He has been peeking in on the fires at 11 p.m., 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., just like a father with a fussy newborn.

"We got a beating," Miller said about his early spring vegetables trying to sprout from the earth and grow. Miller and his wife, Ruth, are familiar faces at the Reno County Farmer's Market. The market is scheduled to open May 4, so there is urgency to getting early spring vegetables producing.

Miller isn't alone. Gardeners around the region have been experiencing a roller-coaster ride including the April 10 ice storm, topped by Thursday night's dip down to 29 degrees. And it appears the final frost of the winter season could be less than a week away.

The National Weather Service's prediction is for the temperature to drop to around 29 degrees (again) on Tuesday. Miller should get some sleep while he can, because some chilly rain mixed with snow is also in next week's forecast. Last year at this time, plants were ahead of schedule. The last frost was before April 15, and it was dry. But this year, a red-eyed Miller just shakes his head. What he has growing is healthy, but this is an uncertain time for early gardeners, who must practice patience.

Meanwhile, Lynn Devena was one of those over-anxious gardeners shopping Thursday for more tomatoes to set out. He gambled with Mother Nature and lost. His first plants froze. He was at Benton's Greenhouse on Thursday morning. While the greenhouses were brimming with vegetables, herbs and giant geraniums, the shoppers were few. Alma Buettell, a Benton employee, was helping Devena find more tomato plants. Despite the threat of freezing temperatures overnight, she said Thursday was a good day to shop ahead of the weekend crowds, who would descend like fair-weather friends.

Plants purchased even before the last frost could wait it out in the garage, Buettell said.

Some gardeners with plants in the ground have been covering them with buckets or using walls of water to protect them from the unsettled weather, Buettell said.

At Stutzman's Greenhouse, Jason French said gardeners were using common sense when it came to putting out plants and vegetables. And it's a good spring for the Cole crops. Those are vegetables in the mustard family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi. For best growth, they prefer 60- to 70-degree temperatures, and they can withstand light frost, French said.

For the reader curious about planting rhubarb, Stutzman's has gallon buckets of Crimson Cherry Red Rhubarb for sale. The old-fashioned perennial can be planted until the weather gets too hot, French said.

"Don't eat the leaves," he warned.