Crops For Early Spring

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 snowpeas makes braving that chill worth the effort.

Two key elements in achieving a successful spring garden are soil preparation and seed germination. I have always tried to pregerminate my seed, either in plug trays, peat pots, or by sandwiching between two moist paper towels in a warm area. Lettuce, spinach and 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 have their true leaves. Beets don’t appreciate transplanting, so these can be germinated on paper towels, and the rooted seeds placed gently into holes created with a small dibble or a pencil. Doing this ensures adequate seed germination, and also eliminates the need to thin plants.

Choose a day when it’s relatively warm, sunny and the soil is dry to prepare your soil. Wet soils will compact with tillage, and the end result is a hard lump that can strangle the tender roots of your seedlings. Dig in adequate amounts of compost and / or dry fertilizer, and allow these to settle in for a day or so before placing seedlings in the furrows.

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. Last year, I had to put a plastic tunnel over my spinach, which survived an 8” snowfall and went on to produce several salad bowls full of leaves. 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.

Pat Mulford •