It is officially Springtime! The apple and cherry and pear trees are in blossom, ambitious joggers are wearing short shorts and it is safe to start sowing seeds with reckless abandon. No foolin’.
Plan & Purchase:
Now’s the time that nurseries start carrying a wide assortment of seedlings, ready to harden off and pop right in your garden. So if you haven’t been starting your own early season kales, cabbages and greens, you can still put a spring garden in. It’s just going to cost you a bit more. If you go the nursery-start route, make sure your store-bought babies are strong, healthy and sturdy. Bigger is not necessarily better, but sturdier always is.
Buy from a solid nursery that knows edibles. Go some place and ask them what short-season brassicas they recommend with excellent texture, good ornamental presence and long field holding ability. If they stare at you blankly and point you to some lovely geraniums, turn around and find another nursery. If they lead you to an assortment of gorgeous red cabbage seedlings, you’ve found your spot.
You should have a solid idea of what part of your garden will be given over to heat-lovers and what part will grow spring and fall crops. Your own preferences dictate this: it is totally okay to grow zucchini, corn and green beans and turn your back on the garden during the blustery and rainy days at the beginning and end of the season. It is also perfectly okay to plan for a year-round harvest. Do what works for you, but have some idea what you are doing, because if you really want winter cabbages then you cannot get carried away in May and plant all your beds in tomato transplants.
If you are new to starting your own seeds you might want to check out my three-part Seed Starting 101 series: Key Components For Healthy Seedlings, A Step-by-Step Visual Guide To Growing Seedlings At Home, and Up-Potting.
- Summer & Winter Squash – I have started squash under lights as early as late February, but early April is my target date. I laugh in the face of conventional wisdom that tells me I can’t start squashes under lights. I have a transplanting technique that I swear works even on the super finicky root systems of summer and winter squash. I start seeds in 4″ or larger pots and make sure that the seedling never gets root bound. As soon as the plant roots fill out its pot, or even slightly before, I up-pot or transplant out under cloche if weather allows. When it’s time to transplant out, I make sure everything – seedling and seedbed – is moist. I dig a hole in my prepared seedbed a little larger and than the pot. I work extra compost and fertilizer into the area immediately under the hole. I place the seedling – still in its pot – in the hole to ensure that the fit is good. Then I backfill gently all around the pot. I pull the seedling up by the sides of the pot, leaving behind a perfect pot-shaped hole. I carefully support the seedling, remove the pot, and plop the seedling in its hole which is pre-sized to fit it perfectly. I water in the seedling with dilute fish emulsion and protect with a cloche until the weather warms up. The root mass never gets too messed up. I’ve never noticed appreciable transplant shock when I transplant this way, and I’ve transplanted squashes in gallon-sized pots. The biggest problem with letting them get that big is they are just hard to handle while transplanting and they require too much potting mix.
- Cucumbers – If I’m feeling like it, I will start cucumbers indoors in early-to-mid-April. Because cukes are more precocious than the squashes, I don’t think there’s as much to be gained by it. I find it’s easier to wait until May and sow them out directly into soil that’s been pre-warmed with black plastic mulch and is covered with a row cloche.
- Basil – Start your basil. In a few months when I give you my recipe for Lemon Walnut Pesto you’ll be so glad you did.
Sow & Plant Outside
- Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kale can be sown directly in the ground now without protection. Keep an eye out for slugs! No really, watch for slugs.
- Carrots, Parsnips & Root Parsley – As long as your soil is dry enough to work to a smooth tilth, these can all be planted. You will have the best results in loose open soil and I encourage you to cover your seedlings with row cover to prevent the carrot root maggot from destroying your crop.
- Peas & Favas – You can still plant peas and favas but it’s best to choose enation resistant pea varieties for planting at this time of year. (Enation is a virus that shows up when the weather warms and causes your pea vines to basically shrivel up and die. Luckily by the time it hits, there are other things to harvest.)
- Salad Greens – Lettuce, spinach, mustards, arugula, Asian greens, cress and greens mixes can be sown directly for salad and quick sautes. If you started greens indoors last month under lights, harden them off before you settle them into their outside bed.
- Radishes – Fast maturing and great for intercropping.
- Swiss Chard – I love Bright Lights for looks but Rhubarb is super tasty and Fordhook Giant is more winter-hardy.
- Turnips & Rutabagas – I don’t bother with rutabagas in spring. For me they are a purely fall-winter crop. Spring turnips are lovely though.
- Beets – Can be sown out directly.
- Onion Sets – Get your main onion patch in asap if you are working from sets or starts.
- Potatoes – Plant anytime from late March to late May, depending on when you want to harvest them. We’re container growing in malt grain bags.
- Jerusalem Artichokes – Can still be planted.
- Hardy Herbs: Chives, parsley, mints, marjoram, oregano, dill, fennel, borage and the like can all be sown out.
- Tender Herbs: Basil is best started inside or in a greenhouse. Sowing it directly generally doesn’t allow a long enough growing season. Cilantro can be started alongside basil indoors or can be sown out directly towards the end of the month.
- Salad Greens – my overwintered lettuce and spinach are pretty little baby greens. I would have been enjoying frisee out of the greenhouse but the chickens ate it. The first batch of greens has been transplanted in and seems to be doing just fine. Arugula and Asian greens can be harvested this month if you started them early under a cloche.
- Leeks – last year’s leeks still look good. They’ll be putting up a seedhead this month for sure, so they need to get harvested asap.
- Rhubarb – rhubarb is up and going. Mine is a baby little transplant, but mature crowns should be very harvestable.
- Asparagus – I usually see my asparagus in late April or early May. This year the crowns were dug and transplanted so I’m not sure what to expect.
- Sprouting Broccoli – My sprouting broccoli is finally starting to head-up, so this month we’ll be harvesting whatever shoots we can from the somewhat undersized plants.
- Kale – The kale is going to flower and making scores of tender shoots. I love kale shoots, and cook them just like sprouting broccoli or broccolini.
- Chard – most of my chard didn’t overwinter and I have cleared the bed for spring crops. But if your crowns came through winter they’ll keep putting out new leaves until they go to seed this month. There is a variety called Perpetual which will apparently perennialize in Zones 7 and above.
- Turnips and Rutabagas – My turnips are putting out tons of greens and are thinking about bulbing up. Last years rutabagas are bolting. If you have any left, eat them now.