After a long winter with nothing growing outdoors, gardeners are anxious to get an early spring garden planted and enjoy fresh produce. However, spring weather is unpredictable and it can be warm and sunny one day, then rain for the next several days and have nighttime temperatures close to freezing.
Fortunately, several plants can stand up to that cool, damp, sunny and/or warm weather that spring sends our way. Get the garden soil as soon as it thaws in late winter and select from some of these cool-season vegetables to plant for an early spring garden.
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Cool vs Warm Season Vegetables
Food producing plants are divided into two main categories – cool-season and warm season. The cool-season vegetables will only grow when daytime temperatures are below 75F (23C). After the temperature rises above 75F, the cool-season plants will bolt and go to seed.
The good news about cool-season plants is that crops can be grown twice each year, once in the early spring and again in fall. Plants can be allowed to bolt and produce seeds for the next crop to save money on seeds.
Cool-season plants also can withstand a late or early frost with a light covering of newspaper or cheesecloth.
Warm-season vegetables are plants that will only grow after the spring temperature rises above 75F. If temperatures dip below that seeds will rot in the ground and plants will be stunted. Warm-season vegetable and fruit plants thrive in the summer heat but should not be planted in the early spring.
What to Plant in Early Spring
It comes in many different varieties with subtle flavor variations, leaf color, and texture. All varieties (including heading lettuce) grow best in cool weather.
Eight weeks before the last spring frost, sow the lettuce seeds directly into the spring garden. Every two weeks, you can sow more seeds of loose leaf-lettuce for a continual crop.
Sprinkle seeds on top of prepared soil and lightly cover with one-fourth inch of soil. Harvest baby lettuce leaves to thin plants to 4 inches apart.
Cabbage Family Members (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae)
These vegetables will only grow in the cool weather of early spring or fall. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kohlrabi, horseradish, turnip, mustard, and several other cabbage relatives will thrive when planted in an early spring garden.
Members of the cabbage family do best when started from plants. Your local nursery will carry the plants or you can start them from seeds indoor under grow lights six weeks before you plan to plant them outdoors in your early spring garden.
Cabbage family plants will only produce until the temperature reaches 60F (15C), after that the plants will bolt (produce flowers) and develop a bitter flavor. These plants will tolerate a light frost and some even develop a sweeter flavor after a frost.
During the cold temperatures of the spring season, Kale is best known to produce edible leaves a month after planting. Sow kale seeds directly into prepared soil as soon as the soil temperature reaches 40F (4C). Bury the seeds one-half inch deep, and space them an inch apart. Harvest baby leaves to thin plants to six inches apart.
Kale is known as a superfood due to its high nutrient value and can be used in many different ways. Enjoy raw or cooked, baby leaves or full-grown leaves. Use succession planting (plant seeds every two weeks until summer) for a continual harvest during the spring.
This plant is fast-growing root vegetables that produce a double early spring harvest. Both the underground growing radish can be eaten and the green tops are edible also. Both bottoms and tops can be eaten raw or cooked, and radishes come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors.
Root crops, like radishes, also help improve garden soil structure by loosening the soil so warm-season crops can grow deeper roots.
Sprinkle radish seeds on top of prepared soil in early spring, cover with a light layer of soil. Radishes will be ready to harvest in 28 days. Plant in succession for a continual spring harvest.
A must-have for an early spring garden is the Snow Peas. This vegetable, as their name suggests, can withstand a light frost and cool temperatures that hover around 50F (10C).
Snow peas seeds can be sowed directly into the garden four to six weeks before the last expected spring frost. Place seeds half an inch deep into prepared soil and two inches apart. These early spring producers are related to sugar snap peas and will need to be supported during the growing season. Snow peas should be picked young when the pods are still flat and the peas inside have just started to swell.
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