Crops for Early Spring

Too many people believe that vegetable gardening starts in May and ends on Labor Day. Here are some veggies that grow well from February through May in the midwest, or all winter long in the south.

The temperature is hovering around 45 degrees, and vestiges of winter’s north winds are in the air. It’s a great time to be out in the garden!

There are several vegetables able to thrive in early spring. Beets, peas, lettuce, cabbage and spinach taste better when grown in cool weather, either early spring or fall. After a long winter’s hibernation, it’s gratifying to have an excuse to dig in the dirt. And that first dish of asparagus topped with stir-fried snow peas makes braving that chill worth the effort.

Prepare the soil in your spring garden during the fall, and mulch with leaves, straw or grass clippings. If you wait until February or March to rototill and add compost you may actually ruin soil tilth, because working with damp soil makes it compact like cement. Light cultivating and an application of a chemical or organic preemergent herbicide helps keep the area clean.

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A second trick to growing early crops successfully is to pregerminate the seeds in a warm, dark area. This ensures that a long streak of cold weather will not rot your seed, and also allows you to space plants, leading to less waste.

Lettuce, spinach, cabbage or cauliflower seedlings transplant easily from plug trays directly to soil. Peas can be started in peat strips, and the entire strip placed in a furrow after the pea plants show their true leaves. Beets don’t appreciate transplanting, so these seeds can be germinated on paper towels, and the rooted seeds placed gently into holes created with a small dibble or a pencil.

Choose a day when it’s relatively warm, sunny and the soil is dry to transplant seedlings. Remove the mulch that you’ve placed over the plot, and with trowel and yardstick in hand, insert seedlings at the spacing intervals recommended on the seed packets. Water the area thoroughly after transplanting, and then replace the mulch in a thin layer around the seedlings. If rain is scarce, continue to water the seedlings daily until they are well established and growing. When you water, use a rosette that provides a low-pressure, gentle mist rather than one that will literally blow the plants out of the soil.

Most of these plants can withstand light frosts, but if there is a threat of a hard freeze or snow, find a way to protect your seedlings. Plastic tunnels are readily available, either from internet vendors, mail order or from garden centers. Tunnels help maintain soil warmth, and protect growing plants against heavy frost, hail and snow.

Row covers, tarps, even newspaper “caps” can be used to protect young plants from any harsh winter conditions that blow in. Just remember to remove the protection as soon as the threat is over – you don’t want to give your plants a plastic-induced “hotfoot.”

Vegetable gardens don’t have to be one-season events. Enjoy the cool weather while it lasts, and work in some tasty spring greens beside your daffodils.

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  1. I’m going to have to remember this site for a year when I have more time in the fall to prepare. I didn’t know this!

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