It's still pretty cold here, and I know many people won't be planting their tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and other heat loving vegetables until May, or even June. I like to get a jump on the season by using Kozy Coats, a teepee made of plastic tubes which you fill with water. The sun heats the water, and the temperature inside the teepee is considerably warmer than the air temperature. I have a raised beds, which warm faster than the rest of the soil, and I set out my Kozy Coats several weeks before I intend to plant my seedlings. This allows the soil under the teepees to warm as well. I bought the green ones quite a few years ago (these were actually called Wall 'O Waters), and aside from a few small punctures (don't use sharp tools around these!), they've held up quite well. You can get replacement tubes though, so that can make them last even longer. I recently got some of the red ones because the red color is supposed to produce stronger, stockier tomato plants with higher yields.
This is where I'll plant my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
And not only has it been a cold Spring so far, it's also been pretty wet. And although I placed the garden where it gets the most sun, it's also in a low lying area, which means flooding. That's another reason I built raised beds. The beds themselves drain well, but the rows between can have a lot of water, making it difficult to work in the garden in Spring. My solution this year (instead of patiently waiting for the rows to dry out) was to lay down several layers of newspaper topped by some old wooden boards. Newspaper is good for the garden anyway, and earthworms love it. Earthworm castings (worm poop) provide fertilizer for the plants and their tunnels help aerate the soil. Before I rigged up this little walkway the water was up over the top of my shoes, and there was a lot of mud under that.
I'll use my soil thermometer to periodically check the soil temperature under the Kozy Coats, and when it's warm enough (hopefully within a few weeks) I'll plant my little vegetables in their warm coats. This is what they look like in the house right now. So far they're doing pretty well.
Before long I'll be munching on nice fresh tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, and more fresh from the garden! ;-)
-Michelle of CreativeCritters