It's finally spring in our hills. Officially, it's been spring for over a month, but an Appalachian spring is not a spring you can trust, especially if you are a gardener. The mountains tease and tempt you, blossoming one moment and freezing the next. That's why "frost date" is so important. This is "the day of the year, based on these 30 year averages, that there is only a 10% chance that there will be a frost." Statistically speaking, this means that you should be safe to plant after this day. For us, it tends to fall at the end of April.
But every year, I watch grown men and women tempt this "frost date." For people staunchly opposed to all forms of gambling and avarice, the gardeners I know have a particular penchant toward risk. If you put out your seedlings early enough, and the weather holds, you might also be the first to put out home-grown tomatoes at a church supper. But if you presume too much upon spring, and put them out too soon, your tomatoes won't show up until August because you'll have to replant them after they die. (Of course, you could always do what one friend of our does--tend your plants in a greenhouse until they're nearly grown and then put them out already in bloom--but for the most part, this kind of behavior is frowned upon.)
I spent my childhood watching my father worry and wait until the frost date had finally passed. Today I watch my husband do the same; in fact, as I type, he is out in his garden finally putting out his broccoli and cabbages and tomatoes. He hasn't been this happy in months. Last year, I wrote a short poem about this angst-ridden season and remembered it just today--a day far enough past frost date to ensure that we will have tomatoes come July.
Spring comes to these hills on lilting steps of two forward, one back. The man who has known eighty lifts his hat and smooths down wisps of white. “You cannot trust these days; they’re as fickle as a woman.” But these days seduce old men (and young too) to sow their seeds of hope– a hope that is less than confidence– lest April make fools of them all.