Five Early Spring Vegetables

There are some vegetables that you need to plant almost before you think you should plant anything.  If you wait too late to plant these vegetables, you will not get a full season of harvest from them.  Some will not even mature before it gets too hot.  Here are five early spring vegetables that you can start, from seed or transplants, outside before the danger of frost is past.


Peas can be planted when there is snow on the ground!  Peas do best when you plant them directly into the garden as seeds.  You can start planting them up to two months before the average frost free date.  Plant seeds close together, with only 2 to 4 inches between seeds.  Climbing varieties need a trellis.  They start producing later than bush varieties, but will produce longer.  Peas grow in conjunction with nitrogen fixing bacteria, so they do not need extra food.  It takes most peas about 60 days from planting to maturity.


Spinach is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow and eat.  It contains some of almost every vitamin and mineral needed to stay healthy.  To be so nutritious, spinach needs a lot of food.  When possible, work compost into the soil before planting spinach in your spring vegetable garden.  You can "side dress" with a slow-release fertilizer or compost two to four weeks after planting.  Spinach is a little bit difficult to grow from seed; however, plants started from seed do much better and produce leaves longer before "bolting," or sending up a flower stalk (which effectively ends their life as food plants).  You can begin direct seeding spinach in the garden four to six weeks before the average last frost date.  The seeds need to be barely covered with a light potting mix, and kept evenly moist during germination.


Beets are a vegetable that tastes much better when grown during cool weather.  When it begins to get hot outside, beet roots become tough and woody, and sometimes have a strange flavor.  For best-tasting beets, sow directly outside up to one month before the average last frost date.  Plants should be spaced three to four inches apart.  You can over-plant and harvest beet greens for salads, leaving others to mature.  Most beets will mature in 45-60 days.  After six weeks, scrape some soil away from the beets to see how large the roots are.  Do not let the beet roots grow larger than two inches across, for best flavor.


Carrots are fun and frustrating to grow!  They take a long time to germinate, but must be kept evenly moist during germination.  Sometimes the combination of germination time and moisture requirements can cause a crust to form on the soil.  To keep this from happening, plant a row of radishes alongside the carrots.  The radishes will sprout quickly and keep the soil loose for the carrots.  Carrots like a very light, sandy soil.  Some people save specific sections of their gardens just for carrots, preparing the soil so that it has more sand than other areas of the garden.  If carrots grow in heavy soils, they will often split their roots and can form some unusual shapes.  You can sow carrot seeds directly into the garden up to one month before the average last frost date.  Because their germination can be spotty, plan to sow more seeds than you want finished plants, and thin as the first true leaves begin to appear.


Lettuce is relatively easy to grow, but can be a heavy feeder.  It likes soil with a pH of 6.5 or higher.  You can grow "heading lettuce" an leaf lettuce.  The heading varieties are more difficult to grow.  For home gardeners, leaf lettuce is easy to grow and will produce well.  If you live in a very hot climate, grow lettuce in partial shade.  You can plant lettuce directly in the garden up to six weeks before the average last frost date.  Lettuce seeds should be sprinkled on loose, rich soil, and covered just barely with a bit of light potting soil.  Keep the seeds evenly moist and watch them grow.  You can harvest as soon as there are enough leaves on the plant to sustain continued growth. Planting an early spring vegetable garden is a treat after a long winter.  These vegetables will get your garden off to a great start, even as the weather has barely started to warm up.
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