The garden is off and growing with a good start to the early spring season. It’s obvious that the plants are anxious to get going and you can watch them swell, bud, uncurl, and flex before they finally burst open with new leaf growth or flower blooms!
Gardeners can be the same way, whether it’s the rush to get outside and enjoy warm temps, a yearning for the taste of some garden fresh produce, or the desire to be the first one in the neighborhood to harvest a vine-ripened tomato!
Here’s a list of tips and ideas to help you get the garden off to a fast start each spring:
Raise Fall Planted Garlic – Garlic, shallots, and perennial onions are the first veggies to appear in my garden each spring, usually sprouting up around the end of February. By planting the seed during the fall months of October or November, you give the crop a chance to settle in and develop an extensive root system before the ground freezes during winter.
Then as soon as spring approaches this crop will happily send up strong top growth, giving you a big jump on garlic seed that is planted in early spring. In addition to a more productive summer harvest, fall planted garlic will also provide you with a chance to harvest baby garlic from patches of the bed that were sown thicker than needed in anticipation of thinning the young garlic greens.
Switch to Raised Beds – I don’t recommend garden tillage in general, but one of the worst things that you can do to your soil is to rototill it in early spring while it is still wet. The use of raised beds eliminates the need for annual tillage altogether and allows me to plant into the garden anytime that I am ready.
The beds are never walked upon and stay loose enough to sow seeds or transplant seedlings with minimal soil preparation. Raised beds also drain and warm up faster during spring so that the gardener can get right to work as soon as the weather conditions are acceptable. It’s also easier to work around sections of the garden that contain plants that you would like to remain in place.
Over Winter Fall Greens – Those leafy greens like kale, collards, mustards, and arugulas that perform so well during the fall season will be happy to put on another show by producing additional harvests of delicious greens in springtime. Here in Central PA hardy greens will over winter just fine with no protection, colder regions may need a cover of straw or shredded leaves to help the plants survive the winter.
As temperatures rises in April the plants will begin sending out new leaf growth that can be harvested as soon as they reach the size that you prefer. You can expect the production to continue into May and provide you with some of the biggest harvests from the spring garden. Even after the plants run to seed the stalks and buds can be harvested and used just like tiny broccoli heads.
Start Seeds Indoors – My eggplants are growing very nicely and the heirloom tomatoes aren’t far behind, while the cold weather transplants have been in the ground for weeks already. Starting seeds indoors to transplant out once the growing conditions are suitable gives the gardener control over the specific varieties, care, and timing of when the transplants are ready to be set out into the garden.
It’s also very satisfying to raise your own seeds from start to finish! Sure you can plant things like melons, cucumbers, and squash directly in the garden after the soil thoroughly warms, but using transplants is worth the effort, especially in regions cursed with cooler or shorter growing seasons. Not to mention the benefits of an earlier and longer harvests.
Plant Perennial Edibles – There are plenty of popular perennial veggies and herbs like asparagus, lovage, and rhubarb that will get off to a fast start during spring and yield an early harvest of fresh produce. Other less popular edible perennials for the home garden include; cardoon, sea kale, and globe artichokes. Though some, like the globe artichokes are not as hardy, perennial plants are great for kicking off the spring growing season automatically.
I maintain a separate bed exclusively for perennial vegetables in order to make their care and maintenance simpler. Once established perennial crops need only to be kept weeded, watered during dry spells, and be provided with an occasional feeding of compost to keep them vigorous and growing from one season to another.
Use Cold Frames and Row Covers – Devices like cold frames and wall-o-waters can help to heat the soil up quickly and make things cozy for the heat lovers like tomatoes, peppers, melons, and squash plants. Row covers and plastic mulches can also be used to raise soil temps during early spring.
The row covers and cold frames are ideal because they can be easily removed later in the season after the need to warm the soil has passed. Set the devices up a few days to a week in advance of planting in them to allow sufficient time for the sun and the cold frame or row cover to work together and heat soil down to the seedlings root zone.
Watch for Volunteers and Left Overs – If you over wintered immature plants like kale, collards, spinach, arugula, and broccoli then you could have patches of seedlings ready and waiting to be thinned and transplanted. This strategy works well for crops like lettuce and spinach that can be finicky about the conditions that they will germinate under.
I’m already seeing tiny volunteers like basil seedlings springing up in the garden. These bonus plants are the result of self seeding by the plants that were grown in last year’s garden. I would never consider planting out frost sensitive herbs this early, but hopefully these seedlings know something that I don’t and won’t be cut down by a late cold snap.
Just wait for a cloudy or rainy day to dig up your clumps of over wintered seedlings or the gifts of unexpected volunteer plants, then carefully loosen any plants that are tangled together, and transplant them. They are perfect for filling in bare spots between other plants that got off to an early start, or to create new growing beds. These established young plants will recover quickly without much setback from transplant shock during the ideal spring growing conditions.
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