With very little effort on your part, you can be enjoying fresh spring vegetables in a matter of weeks. Though it’s a little early for the summer crops to go in the ground, you’ve got a green light for all spring veggies. Given some tender loving care, your baby vegetable plants will soon grow vigorous and lush.
Here are some highlights of the cool weather crops eager to grow this time of year.
Peas: Plant seeds as soon as possible; they thrive best in the cooler months of spring and early summer. Soak them in water overnight to give them a jump start and push into the ground to about your first knuckle: about one inch deep.
Greens: Lettuce, spinach, chard, bok choy, kale… the list of delicious and nutritious leafy vegetables you can grow is endless.
Lettuce is rewarding to grow because it matures quickly and you can get several pickings off the same plant. Pinching the most mature leaves off the plant at its base is the favored method but can be time consuming when dinner’s waiting inside. In most cases you can cut straight across the plant a couple inches above ground and the youngest leaves will continue their upward journey.
Experiment with gourmet salad greens. Grow spicy arugula, crispy radicchio, endives and watercress, and enjoy the young greens in your own gourmet salads.
Dark green leafy vegetables – chard, kale, mustard greens, collards, spinach — are cut and come again. Kale is considered one of the world’s most nutritious foods and is available in a wide array of form: densely wrinkled, dark green leaves; to flatter, more cabbage-like types to more petite, frilly varieties. Kale is the crowning glory of spring vegetables!
Beets: It’s so fun to pull up beets! Undemanding and rarely bothered by pests, no part of the beet plant goes to waste. The greens are extremely nutritious and beet varieties include large, robust beets, petite golden globes, cylindrical types and even striped varieties.
Cruciferous vegetable starts of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale may now be put out.
Then go underground by sowing seeds of carrots, available in a rainbow of colors; radishes, onions, scallions and potatoes.
No room for a garden? If you have room for a large pot or two or some other type of planter box, you too can be a vegetable gardener!
After bringing them home, let your plants adjust to life outdoors gradually. Set them, still in their containers, outdoors in a lightly shaded, sheltered spot. Keep the seedlings well watered and protect them from strong winds as you gradually increase their exposure to direct sun.
Begin with just a few hours of morning sun the first day or two, then give the seedlings a half day of sun and finally several full days of sun.
After you have hardened off your seedlings, it’s time for settling them into their home in your garden. To make the adjustment as easy as possible, plant them out late in the afternoon or on an overcast day. Try not to handle the root ball as you dig them carefully from their flats. You can often pop the transplants out into your hand by turning them upside down and gently squeezing the pot.
Pick up the seedlings gently by their stems, trying to keep the soil around the roots as intact as possible. Keep roots covered and don’t expose them to the air any more than necessary. Set each plant in a prepared hole up to its first pair of true leaves, tamp the soil firmly around it, then water thoroughly, even if rain threatens, to get rid of air pockets and ensure good root-to-earth contact.
Save room for subsequent plantings to lengthen your harvest season, and remember to read seed packets and plant spikes carefully; they’re your ultimate key to success.
Here in the Bay Area you can start planting warm weather crops – tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and basil – in mid to late April.