It is not too early to plan your spring vegetable garden. February and March are prime planting season for some cultivars.
Many of the cool-season crops from the fall garden can also be planted in spring. However, there are vegetables that can only be grown in spring because the seeds germinate in cooler soil temperatures and the crop needs cooler weather to mature.
One very special spring treat is peas, both shelling and snap. Pea seed is planted directly in the garden during February until March 20. The vines need support to keep the pods off the ground. It is best to install the trellises before planting the seeds. Space rows 12 to 36 inches apart. Plant seeds half an inch deep and one inch apart. There is no need to thin the seedlings, which emerge in one to three weeks. Peas are ready to harvest in approximately two months.
Beets are another crop grown only in spring. The seeds need to be planted by March 10. Root crops need well-worked light soil.
In our area, raised beds may be needed to create the best conditions. Beet seeds contain several embryos. Once the true leaves appear, thin the seedlings to three or four inches apart.
Even moisture is essential to prevent “zoning,” or ring formation in the root. Beets mature in 50 to 65 days, depending on the variety. There are seed packets containing several cultivars, so that even a small garden can produce golden as well as red beets.
Spinach is best planted in February because increasing day length along with rising temperatures cause it to bolt. Look for bolt-resistant varieties. During the Middle Ages, spinach came to be associated with Lent because it was available in the early spring. Catherine d’Medici loved this vegetable. The term a la Florentine for dishes containing spinach is a lasting tribute to her. Plant spinach seeds half an inch deep in rows a foot apart. Thin the seedlings to three to six inches apart.
Lettuce and radishes may be planted in February and March. These crops need repeated plantings every two to three weeks to prolong the harvest. Once warm weather arrives, lettuce becomes bitter and goes to seed.
Wait until March to plant Swiss chard. This spinach cousin is biennial, so it will not bolt and can tolerate warm weather. The varieties with colorful stems and leaf veins are ornamental enough to join the flower garden. Some people claim that the red
ones have the best flavor.
Like beets, carrots must have light soil for the roots to have room to grow without deformities. Sow the seed directly in the garden and cover with 1/4 inch of vermiculite or compost. Keep the soil evenly moist to prevent soil crusting. Thin the seedlings to two or three inches apart when they are four inches tall. When they have 7 to 10 leaves, hill 1 or 2 inches of soil over the crowns to prevent green shoulders.
There is a wide variation in time needed for carrots to mature—from 36 to 90 days. One might prolong the harvest by planting two or three different varieties.
The early season garden can be filled with wonderful cool weather crops that are harvested before it is time to set out our summer favorites.
February finds master gardener Ann Bartlett rarin' to get at the ornamental beds around her home. She ain't the only one!