Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gardening Article: Early Spring Vegetables: 3 Mainstays

Before winter comes to a close don’t forget to spend a few minutes planning your early spring vegetable garden. Of course, not all vegetables are suited for growing in cool months but there are probably more than you think. After figuring out what are some cool weather edible plants to grow, I always narrow the list by considering which will be the most productive. Here are 3 of the most productive and easiest to grow early spring vegetables.

These vegetables can be used in a winter seed sowing setup or plant them out in the garden a few weeks before the last expected frost in your area. Whichever works best for you, eating fresh early spring vegetables from your edible garden is only a few steps away.

Lettuce – Lettuce is a perfect early spring vegetable since it doesn’t need much room and can be started indoors, allowing an even earlier jump on the growing season. Good choices for lettuce are black seeded Simpson for a loose-leaf type and buttercrunch for a butterhead type. Lettuce seeds are very small so be sure to cover them with a very fine and light seed starting mix. Lettuce can start to be harvested when the leaves are 5-6” long. Harvest the outer leaves first and more leaves will grow from the center of the plant for continual harvest.

Peas – Peas are a great cool season crop since they are extremely productive. In fact, harvesting the pods will make the plant produce more pods. Peas are also very fast growers and cold tolerant. In maritime climates peas can even be planted in the fall and over winter until spring. Peas produce best in cooler weather so by the time summer rolls around you can plant another crop in the space.

Turnip – Talk about a super fast vegetable! You can begin from seed and harvest turnips in a month. They have a creamy texture with sweet and peppery notes to it. Turnip greens can be eaten as well as the root, so it is very versatile. A great way to prepare turnip is to think mashed potatoes. In fact blending turnips in 50/50 to mashed potatoes makes a great and very creamy mashed side dish. Harvest can begin when turnips are 2-3” in diameter.

Lettuce transplants well but for peas and turnips that do not, one of the main problems you will encounter in our wet Northwest climate are slugs and snails. They love to eat tender young seedlings. The impact of slugs and snails can be minimized in a number of ways. My best advice is to assume they will eat your early spring vegetables so start your prevention measures early.

Another issue in early spring gardening is that food availability for animals and birds is low at that time of year. Birds and animals such as squirrels and chipmunks will be excited to feast on the seeds you just planted. For this reason it is also advisable to cover areas of newly planted seeds for 10-20 days with something like clear plastic sheeting or hardware cloth.

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About the author: Galen Williams is the creator of Edible Garden Northwest and is an avid edible gardening enthusiast.

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