Early Spring Planting. A Fool’s Garden? 9

Duncan Cocking planting out tomatoes in early spring as art of a Fool's Garden

Long term readers will know that I live in Kyneton, a town in Central Victoria. The winters here are cold, with heavy frosts. Our summers are much hotter than in Melbourne and very dry.

The growing season for summer vegetables is short in my garden. Local gardeners know better than to transplant tomatoes before Melbourne Cup Day. Last year we even had a few mild frosts in December.

The weather over the previous three summers have been La Nina weather patterns. Each one vastly different. Last summer, in 2022, we had an especially wet spring. This resulted in our wettest year on record. It took forever for the soil to warm up. Many of my fruit trees failed to set fruit and quite a few summer vegetable crops were complete failures.

This winter and early spring has been incredibly dry by comparison to last year. The ambient temperatures have been mild and frosts have been minimal. There’s still plenty of firewood stashed in the shed, because we haven’t needed the wood burner cranking as much as in previous years.


Earlier this week, the interns and I turned a hot compost pile. Before replacing the compost thermometer, I checked the temperature of the soil. At this time of the year, it is normally languishing below 10 degrees. To my amazement it showed 21 degrees! Our soil doesn’t normally warm up this much until late December.

Compost thermometer being used to measure soil temperature. Early spring planting
Soil temperatures in my garden are much higher than they normally are at this time of the year.

I double checked the temperature in several places around the garden and each reading was roughly 20 degrees. The coldest soil temperature that I could find was in an area covered in knee length grass and even that was a balmy 17 degrees. All readings were taken approximately 10 cm below the soil surface.

A mild winter, combined with the warm weather of late, has the soil warming quickly, the moisture levels plummeting, and the plant growth exploding (especially the weeds).

I’m always encouraging gardeners to be patient and wait for the soil to warm up before planting. But now I’m struggling to follow my own advice. The excited, impulsive part of me just wants to get planting. The rational part of me knows there’s still plenty of opportunity in the next six weeks for heavy frosts, cold weather and temperature fluctuations. Common sense says to hold off planting summer crops.

But “what if?”

What if we’ve had our last frost for the year?

What if we are going to have an extra six weeks in our growing season?

What if I hold off planting for another six weeks and realise I could have planted in late September after all?

The world is full of “What ifs?”

I often use the motto “It’s better to regret trying something, than not doing it at all”.

I have plenty of space to grow food.

It took me 24 hours of soul searching before I came around to ignoring my own advice. Sometimes you’ve just got to push the boundaries. At the very least, I’m considering this just part of an extended succession planting or a demonstration of what not to do.

So here’s my plan.

My “Fool’s Garden” 2023

I’m going to dedicate one of my eight raised vegetable garden beds to a trial planting of early crops.

Kitchen garden raised bed. Kyneton. Fallow but ready for spring planting
A fallow garden bed in my kitchen garden. I’ve dedicated this one to my Fool’s Garden.

In this garden bed I am going to plant:

  • 2 x spare tomato seedlings. I’m planting Broad Ripple Currant and Jaune Flamme as they have both been reliable, early croppers and tolerant of the cold.
  • 1 x row of Cucumber seed, directly sown
  • 1 x zucchini plant, directly sown
  • 1 x trellis of runner beans, directly sown

I’m confident the beans will be fine. I honestly have no idea how the other crops will fare. Thus, I’m labelling this garden a “Fool’s Garden”.

Early spring planting of tomato seedlings
The cost and effort to set up my Fool’s Garden is minimal, a few seeds and spare tomato plants, plus a bit of my time. However, the potential reward of an extra 6 weeks of summer crops may never materialise.

Strategies I will use to improve my chances of a successful Fool’s Garden

I’ll be improvising some small cloches from clear containers to help improve the microclimate of the cucurbit seedlings.

The whole garden bed will have insect netting draped over it. I usually use insect netting to cover my main tomato crops. This helps to prevent pest attack, but using the netting from day one helps to act as a wind break, increase ambient temperature inside the netting and create a warm microclimate. In the past, this netting has been enough to protect my tomatoes from light frost. It also means that I don’t need to harden off my seedlings before transplant.

See my guide to different methods you can use to protect young seedlings and early vegetable crops for some ideas you might like to try.

You can also read my guide to making an early start in the vegetable patch.

I’ll keep you updated on my Fool’s Garden

I’ll add progress updates on Instagram and Facebook. I’ll also update this blog from time to time.

What about you?

Do you think I’m crazy, or are you also jumping the gun and making a super early start in your vegetable patch? If so, please keep me updated so we can all learn together from this experience. You can leave a comment on this blog, or use hashtag #foolsgarden2023 in your social media posts.

Soil preparation (30/09/2023)

 I’ve just turned the soil and added plenty of compost in preparation for planting my “fool’s garden”.
Wondering how to prepare the soil in your vegetable patch for planting this spring?
Check out Part 7 of the Vegetable Patch from Scratch series if you’d like to know more information on this important aspect of growing food.

Planting Day (01/10/2023)

Planting day in the “fool’s garden”
The kids and I planted out
🥒Cucumber seeds
🍅Tomato seedlings
🌱Zucchini seeds
🫘Bean seeds
Here in Central Victoria, there’s still plenty of cold weather, with a high chance of frosts ❄️ for the next six weeks. Towards the end of the video you will see how I have protected this freshly planted garden to create a warm microclimate.

See my spring planting guide for a list of other vegetables you can consider planting.

Fool's Garden Update: Day 19 (20/10/23)

The beans and zucchini have germinated. The beans have germinated in the Fool’s Garden. It took 18 days for both, which is much longer than the usual 7 to 10 days. I can already see signs of earwig or slater damage to the tender young shoots.

Bean seedlings emerging. They show signs of pest attack
The beans have germinated in the Fool's Garden. It took 18 days, which is much longer than the usual 7 to 10 days.

The tomatoes are thriving…. or are they? Compare the healthy and flowering plants in the Fool’s Garden to those still in the greenhouse!

Two tomato plants comparing early and late planting.
Both of the tomato plants in this image were grown from seed sown on the same day. They are both the same variety.

Both of the tomato plants in this image were grown from seed sown on the same day. They are both the same variety.

The main difference is that the plant on the right of the image was planted into the garden on the 1st October as part of my #foolsgarden2023. It looks healthy, it has flowers and no sign of frost damage. It would appear that the Fool’s Garden was successful.

Until you compare it to another plant…

The plant on the left has been potted up and continued to thrive in the greenhouse.

What a difference!

Planting your sensitive summer crops too early slows their growth. This leaves them prone to pest attack and disease.

It has been such a warm spring, if early planting was going to be of benefit in any year, it would be this one. And it hasn’t.

Patience is a virtue!

Check out the video for a full update.

Fool's Garden Update Day 26 (27/10/23)

The bean germination has been very sporadic. Those that have emerged have been slow to grow and mostly destroyed by what I assume are slaters that I found in abundance.
Some plants are completely chewed through at soil level. I find this is usually the case with beans that are sown too early. I don’t normally sow my beans until late October or even early November. Later planting results in more rapid growth and the beans can usually outrun the leaf chewers, such as earwigs, slugs and slaters.
I planted our main crop of beans earlier in the week. It will be interesting to see how much better this second planting does compared to the Fool’s Garden.
On a positive note, at least I’ll have space to plant something else now. Perhaps I can plant another  zucchini and tomato plant next to the originals to compare the later planting vs transplant shock.

Melbourne Cup Day Update (7/11/23)

Melbourne Cup Day is the traditional time for many gardeners to plant their tomatoes into the garden.

Today I removed the polycarbonate sheets that were protecting the tomato plants. I weeded the garden and planted out some cucumber seedlings that I had started in the greenhouse.

The beans had been completely destroyed by slaters and earwigs. I used the vacant space to plant out a tomato seedling and a zucchini seedling. This will allow me to compare the effects of transplant shock for later planted seedlings vs those planted back at the start of October.

Check out the video for more details.

Trellis Installation and Update (24/11/23)

Today I took the netting off the Fool’s Garden and installed some trellises to support the tomatoes and cucumbers.

Many growers have a preferred method for staking tomatoes (and some don’t even bother).
My method has evolved over the years. Initially I used to use a stake or two per plant and spend all summer tying them up.
Then came a string system. I made horizontal webs using sisal twine wrapped around timber stakes, for the plants to grow through.
For the last few years, I’ve been installing wire mesh horizontally using star posts to hold them up. It’s fiddly and time consuming, but very effective.
I’ve now made a small prototype fusion of my horizontal mesh system, with the portability of a standard tomato cage. It’s made from reo mesh welded to upright bars and is much stronger than a tomato cage. This prototype is designed to support two tomato plants.
Read more about trellis systems and my tomato trellis evolution here.
My prototype tomato trellis made from reo mesh. Far more sturdy and bigger than a commercial tomato cage.
The prototype tomato trellis will support very large vines. No tying required!

The whole garden is thriving. The cucumbers look strong and healthy.

The zucchinis are doing well. One was sown directly (the one on the left in picture three). A second plant was transplanted from a greenhouse raised seedling. At this stage the plants look very similar in size. The directly sown one has more damage to the leaves, but has a darker colour.

There’s a bigger difference in the tomatoes. The plant that was transplanted early has no tomatoes set on it (the one on the right in picture four). The later transplanted tomato has plenty of fruit set. I think the first ripe fruit on this plant is only a week or so away. The earlier transplanted tomato has darker leaves. At this stage, despite any transplant shock, it seems that the patience approach is still the best way to go.

First Harvests From the Fool's Garden (20/12/23)

This week, I’m reminded of why we have a one zucchini plant rule in our household!
One zucchini plant per household is usually plenty. Any more than that and you'll quickly become inundated with zucchini.
This is the first harvest of zucchinis… five of them! There’s no such thing as moderation when it comes to zucchini productivity. You either have no zucchinis or a glut.
I planted two zucchinis as part of the Fool’s Garden. One was directly sown in the garden, the other raised in the greenhouse a bit later and then transplanted at a more optimal time.
Both plants look strong and healthy. However, four of the five zucchinis came from the greenhouse raised plant.
Both plants are flowering profusely, but the directly sown plant has a much higher ratio of male flowers. This is the opposite to what I would expect. Normally I observe transplanted seedlings producing more male flowers early on. This is usually with any seedlings that have become pot bound and a little stressed. So perhaps the early sowing was a bit stressful for the plant?
I don’t think there’s much of a difference when it comes to zucchini. They’re much more hardy than say tomatoes and the timing of planting into the garden isn’t such a big deal.
For more information on avoid gluts in the vegetable patch check out Part 13 of the Vegetable Patch from Scratch series.


The first tomatoes have been harvested from the Fool's Garden this week.

The difference between the tomato plants is incredible. Both plants are lush, strong and healthy, but the later transplanted one is covered in large ripening fruit. I picked the first fruit from the later plant this week.

The earlier transplanted plant has far fewer fruit and looks like it will be a few more weeks until they ripen.

Fool’s Garden: The final word on early planting

It was clear early on in the Fool’s Garden experiment that early planting for cucumbers is fatal here. The seeds that I sowed directly failed to germinate. I replaced them with seedling raised cucumber plants once the weather improved. Zucchini were more resilient and there wasn’t much difference between the early, directly sown and greenhouse-raised and later transplanted seedlings. However, in other years, early planting zucchini may lead to failure due to frost damage.

The two Jaune Flamme tomato plants are now covered in masses of ripening fruit.

There was a bigger difference in the two tomato plants. The earlier transplanted tomato plant has finally caught up to the later planted one. However, the later-planted tomato was productive for a full six weeks before the earlier-planted one caught up. For me, I’ll be more inclined to exercise patience in the future. I hope this little experiment has also been useful and interesting for you too.


My series, the Vegetable Patch from Scratch is popular with both novice and seasoned gardeners alike. It covers everything you might want to know about growing vegetables.


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9 thoughts on “Early Spring Planting. A Fool’s Garden?

  • Linda

    My bean seedlings are doing well, but we do have a little warmer climate here at Phillip Island as long as you protect from the wind. Even spotted a few self seeded tomatoes so keeping an eye on them before transplanting to a better position. Keeping other seeds covered with glass except on warmer days.

    • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

      Hi Linda,
      yes your winter climate will be much warmer (and windier) than here in Kyneton. Glad the beans are doing well. Here’s hoping ours can out run the earwigs!

      Happy gardening


    • Heather

      I’m also thinking of planting a “Fools Garden” and follow your lead too. I’ve been given excess tomato seedlings from a friend, which are 50cm high. (He planted too many seeds too early). I either have to plant them out or pot them up again and I have my own seedlings as backup anyway. I’ve been tempted to plant them out, plant them deep and protect them with plastic tree guards. Still procrastinating!!! We are being warned this Summer is going to be a “belter”. Do we plant out early? Do I leave it to my “normal” planting time. ( Melbourne Cup Day) With climate change are these planting times still relevant. I’m still tempted to follow you lead. I planted out a bed of Sweet corn in a lasagne style bed today, the seedlings were ready to go. I’ve nothing to lose really, just the cost of a packet of seeds.

      • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

        We can tie ourselves in knots over this, or just give it a go. If you’ve got the space then I say go for it!

        I’ll look forward to your updates Heather.

        Good luck! Duncan.

    • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

      Hi Cynthia,

      Thanks for your question. In Melbourne I usually sow tomato seeds in the greenhouse in July. Transplant date varies depending on your microclimate. See my blog post on Growing Great Tomatoes for more information on timing your tomato crops.

      Good luck with the season ahead!


  • Rose Ovenden

    Hi Duncan,
    I love your Fool’s Garden concept – I’ve been doing this for years (with tomatoes mostly) with very variable results: and now I have a name for it!
    It seems its success depends very much on the weather (always a gamble); on choosing suitable varieties (“Early” and/or cold tolerant) together with a pinch of TLC, ie wind and frost protection
    My Fool’s Garden this year – 5 tomatoes in 5 very large pots, with mini-greenhouse covers (large plastic bottles) – started slowly but is going gangbusters now because of the warm spring. No ripe fruit on them yet, but plenty of flowers and green fruits. The varieties are Orange Sunrise, Oregon Spring, Stupice, Tasmanian Chocolate, and Green Zebra. Not all particularly early ones, but all doing much the same.

    I also tried some fairly reliable cucumbers: Green Apple. But they seem to have been attacked by something which has infected them with fasciation; I’ve pinched out the affected tops, but they’re not doing so well. I haven’t identified the pest (if that’s what’s done it) but there are plenty of slaters and earwigs about. (You’re so right about those guys attacking early beans – I’ve found one way to trap lots of them is a “Beer Trap” loaded with water and a layer of LIINSEED OIL – they seem to love it and will happily drown).

    I suppose the other thing you could do is put some chickens or ducks in the bed for a day or two, to gobble up the pests – before you plant anything of course!
    I didn’t do any turning over of soil, or digging in compost (at 77, that’s a bit beyond me): but I did add a thin layer of compost and a few handfuls of a complete organic fertilizer before I planted anything; and scrounged around for some mulch to add afterwards. For supports, I like the mesh cage system – once made, they can be re-used many times over, also for supporting tall broad beans in winter. Shorter plastic mesh cages help keep the shorter varieties off the ground.

    Pots do warm up, and dry out, quicker than ground-level beds, so they have needed more watering than the rest of the garden. Even so, I notice some beds drying out quicker than others, in spite of our “average” rainfall (ha,ha! what even is that?!), 933mm so far this year. But we’ve hardly had frost at all for a number of years now.
    Many thanks for your work!

    • Leaf, Root & Fruit Post author

      Hi Rose,

      Thanks for the comprehensive wrap up of your own spring plantings this year.

      I’m noticing more than usual fasciation in my asparagus, as are several other locals. I wonder if its the same culprit as your cucumbers?

      Yes, linseed oil works wonders for attracting earwigs. As does heading out at night with a head torch and cup of soapy water. I’ve now learnt that being patient and planting later in the season is the best way to avoid them.

      Good luck and happy gardening!