When you think about vegetable gardens, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Fresh summer tomatoes? Sweet, sumptuous corn? More zucchini than one family could possibly eat?
Here's the good news: you don't have to wait until the warm weather to grow vegetables. It's easy to extend your vegetable garden's season with crops that love the cooler spring weather. Plant these vegetables early and enjoy fresh harvests sooner than ever before.
Some of the easiest of all spring vegetables, lettuce and other leafy greens grow quickly from seed and can be harvested in as little as 45 to 50 days. An early April sowing should give you fresh greens by mid-May. Lettuce seeds are small and one tip for success is covering the seed with store-bought potting soil instead of heavy garden soil. Potting soil holds moisture and is lighter in weight, making it easy for tiny seedlings to break through.
Nothing is sweeter than a homegrown carrot. Carrots can sometimes be a challenge to grow in clay soils, but if you dig deep and add lots of soil conditioner and compost, you'll get beautiful results. A fun trick is to plant your carrots and radishes together in the same row. You'll pull the radishes first and leave room for the carrots to continue growing, getting double use from the space! Carrots and radishes are great for growing in raised garden beds because the deep soil is perfect for their long roots.
Snow peas, shell peas, and sugar pod (also called “sugar snap”) peas are surprisingly cold hardy. They can be planted from late March to early April and will even tolerate a few degrees of frost. Sugar pod types (perfect for use in stir-fries and fresh salads) should be harvested first, with others following a few weeks after.
Onions are easiest to plant from small bulbs specifically for planting, or from onion plants sold in bundles of small starts about the size of a pencil. Plant onions about two inches apart, and harvest every other one for use as green onions beginning about six weeks after planting. The remaining onions - the ones you don't pull - will then be four inches apart and can be left to develop into full-size onions later in the summer.
If you haven't planted your potatoes yet, you still have time. It's important to purchase “seed potatoes”, which are available in early spring. An April planting will yield new potatoes (smaller in size) in June and full-grown potatoes by mid- to late summer, depending on the variety.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are vegetables that are closely related and are sometimes referred to as “cold” crops. All of them thrive in cool spring weather and should be planted early to take advantage of warm days and cool nights. Harvest will occur from late May to late June.