Early Spring planting is a great way to get your vegetable garden started and extend your growing season. Peas are one of the most widely grown early vegetables in home gardens, and are very easy to grow. People make the mistake sometimes, of planting peas when they plant the tomatoes and everything else. Peas do not do too well in the heat of summer. They tend to die back and stop producing, long before you have picked enough! Planted now, they can withstand late snows and light frosts. They slow down with colder weather, but will pick up again as the temperatures warm up a bit. Here you can see that the peas I planted two weeks ago have just emerged.
Plant brassica seedlings.
Another group of plants, known as brassicas or cole crops, includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages and cauliflower. About 2 or 3 weeks before your last average frost date, you can set out seedlings. You can either purchase them at your local garden center or start them from seed indoors. Cole crop seed is more tender than the mature plant. It must be planted in moist soil with the air temperature about 60° F and the soil temperature at least 45° F.
For this reason, starting your seed indoors about 8 weeks before your last frost date is the best way. They will sprout within a week or so and will be ready to set out 5 weeks from sprouting. “Harden off”, or condition the plants before planting by bringing them outside for a few hours a day. Increase their sun exposure over a few days, but protect them from strong winds and heavy rains. Bring them indoors if temperatures are expected to go near or below freezing.
Soil requirements for early Spring cole crops.
Cole crops prefer the soil to be somewhat sandy, well drained and nutrient rich. Amend your soil by adding a couple inches of rich organic matter such as compost, peatmoss or manure. Add another inch or two of sand if your soil is heavy and mix it all in thoroughly. Like most garden vegetables, cole crops grow best in soil that’s slightly acid with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. You should have your soil’s pH tested every couple of years to determine its acidity or alkalinity. It can be done by your county cooperative extension service or with a home soil-testing kit. They are available at most garden centers.
My soil pH is at 6.6, so I added half a 3 cu ft bag of peat moss to my 3×8 foot raised bed to increase the acidity slightly. I also added blood meal and a 3-4-4 organic fertilizer. I loosened the soil to a depth of 8 or 10 inches and mixed in the peat moss. Then I worked the organic fertilizer into the top 3 inches. The Spring rain will dissolve and spread it further throughout the soil.
Early Spring seeds you can plant now.
In addition to early Spring peas, you can start planting your salad greens seeds. Lettuces grow nicely in cooler temps, as does spinach, kale, chard, onions, bok choy and scallions. You can plant your carrot, beet, radish, mustard, endive, seed potatoes and kohlrabi seeds outdoors. If you want to start some things inside, you can start your broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. In another week or two you can start pumpkins, squash, okra, cucumbers and melons indoors. You don’t want to start these too soon as they can get big pretty quickly; probably start them indoors no more than 3 weeks before planting time outside, or no earlier than May 1st.
And another benefit of all these cool weather crops? You can grow more of them in the cool Fall weather!
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