If you are looking to get a head start on gardening this year, there is no better way to get growing than by planting a few cool weather seed crops that can go in the ground early!
Being a gardener, as soon as the weather starts to warm up and the ground starts to thaw, you start to get antsy to get out into the soil.
In most locations, seeds and transplants aren’t able to go into the garden or raised beds until either the soil temperatures rise, or the outdoor temperatures stay high enough to allow for germination. But the good news is there are a few crops that both sprout and thrive in the cooler temps of early spring.
Not only can you start your garden sooner, but planting these cool-weather-loving crops also allows you to get more than ever from your garden. Best of all, by the time the weather and soil have warmed up enough for summer crop planting, these six spring crops are ready to be pulled to make room for more plants!
In addition to sowing in early spring, most of these crops can also be sown again in late summer, providing you with a second harvest before the first frost of winter sets in. Gardening from early spring to late fall – talk about getting the most out of your garden!
Six Seed Crops To Plant Early This Spring
When you can sow early spring seed all depends on the climate where you live. For most locations, you can plant these crops as soon as the ground is workable in early spring. To be sure, always check the info on the back of your seed packet along with your Growing Zone.
All of today’s early spring seed crops need light, so selecting a location that receives full sun is top priority. Also, make sure the planting location has fertile but well-draining soil as none of these crops like to sit in standing water.
As when planting any garden vegetables, it is always a great idea to amend your soil with compost prior to planting. Not only can it help with germination, it also ensures plenty of available nutrients to help power crops.
Finally, because your planting early, frost is always a possibility. Luckily these crops can handle a bit of cold. But if you do happen to get a frost after plants have sprouted or if temperatures go below freezing, be sure to cover with a light sheet. This is usually more than enough to keep them safe!
Sugar Snap Peas – Six Seed Crops To Plant Before Your Last Frost
Sugar snap peas are an excellent cool-weather crop to include in your garden. Not only are they easy to grow, but they are tasty and productive as well.
Unlike shelling peas, sugar snap peas feature a tender, sweet shell that can be consumed along with the inner peas. They are crisp, sweet, and delicious – whether you eat them raw, or cook them in your favorite dish.
A great bonus of planting peas is that they are a member of the legume family. Like other legumes, sugar snap peas actually work to help improve the nitrogen levels in your soil. That means it can help your summer crops grow even better!
Sugar snap peas send off several small tendrils that allow the plant to “climb” up whatever is nearby. For this reason, the peas do best when they have a trellis or some type of support to climb. Not only will this help keep the foliage healthier, but it will make harvesting easier as well.
Planting Sugar Snap Peas
Sugar snap peas can be planted in early spring as soon as the soil is around 45-50º Fahrenheit (7-10º Celsius). As long as the temperatures stay below the mid 80º F mark (27º C), sugar snap peas will thrive.
Aim for getting this cool-weather plant in the ground about 2 to 3 weeks before your last spring frost date. Plant seeds about one inch deep and one inch apart from one another. Leave around 18 inches between rows. Cover seeds with soil and water well.
After peas emerge in 7 to 10 days, thin so you have one plant every 2 to 3 inches. Also, consider adding a few inches of mulch to help retain moisture and stop weeds.
Harvesting Sugar Snap Peas
Sugar snap peas can be harvested around 6 to 8 weeks after planting. Be sure to harvest the peas regularly as this will allow the plant to continually set blooms.
Spinach – Six Seed Crops To Plant Before Your Last Frost
Spinach is one of the easiest cool-weather crops to grow in your garden. It also happens to be extremely versatile in the kitchen as well.
There are three main types of spinach, but most backyard gardeners prefer to grow semi-savoy spinach varieties. This variety features smoother leaves that are easier to clean and less prone to diseases. In addition, it isn’t as likely to bolt as quickly in the summer heat as compared with the other two types of spinach.
Spinach thrives in temperatures between 35 to 70º Fahrenheit (2 to 21º Celsius). Pretty much as soon as the soil can be worked, you can plant spinach. Aim for getting your spinach seeds planted about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date.
Create a long trench or small holes that are 1/2 inch deep. Keep rows 12 inches apart from one another. Place seeds into the trench or hole and cover with soil. Water well.
Spinach will germinate in around 5 to 10 days. Once seedlings have grown to be a few inches tall, thin so you have one plant every 4 to 6 inches. Adding mulch at this point will also help to retain moisture for plants and keep out competing weeds.
Spinach can be harvested about four to six weeks after planting seeds. Start by taking the outer leaves first, allowing the inner leaves to grow. Consider planting spinach seeds every couple of weeks so you can always ensure you have fresh spinach for harvesting.
Radishes – Six Seed Crops To Plant Before Your Last Frost
There are so many different varieties of radishes to plant in early spring! And the range of flavor can go from sweet and mild, to hot and spicy. The options make it the perfect addition to your salads – no matter your taste!
These small vegetables germinate quickly, and can be harvested in as little as 30 days after planting. Even better, they don’t take up a lot of space in your garden or raised beds.
Since radishes are root vegetables, your soil needs to be loose and compaction-free in order for radishes to grow properly. Amend the soil with compost to help improve its texture and composition for best results.
About 4 to 6 weeks before your last spring frost date, plant radish seeds about 1/2 inch deep. Space seeds about one inch apart. Cover with soil and water well. Radishes can be planted fairly close, around 6 inches apart in rows. In raised beds, rows can be seeded closer at around four inches apart.
Some radish varieties will germinate in as little as 3 to 4 days. After seedlings are a few inches tall, thin to end up with one plant about every 2 to 3 inches.
You can harvest some varieties of radishes in as little as three weeks after planting seeds. They will be ready for harvesting when the roots at the soil line near one inch in width.
Kale – Six Seed Crops To Plant Before Your Last Frost
One of the healthiest and fastest-growing cool weather crops you can plant is kale. It is full of vitamins and antioxidants and it makes this one powerhouse of a vegetable! Kale not only looks amazing with its heavily textured leaves but it tastes amazing too!
There are many different varieties of kale. Some taste more like salad greens, while others have a more peppery flavor. You can find kale varieties in stunning shades of both purple and green, and both have incredible flavor.
Kale is a member of the Brassica family, which includes broccoli and cabbage. Unlike those two head-style crops, kale is grouped into more of a cooking green category with varieties such as swiss chard and collards.
Each plant grows to be around 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, so give them plenty of space when choosing your planting location.
Sow kale seeds about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date. Plant seeds about ¼ to ½ inch deep, spacingthem a few inches apart. Place rows between 18 to 30 inches apart.
The exact distance will depend on which variety of kale you are growing. For best results, always check your seed packet for specific variety information. To finish, cover seeds with soil and water well.
Seeds will start to germinate in around 5 to 8 days. Once seedlings are a few inches tall, you will need to thin them so you only have one plant every 18 to 24 inches.
Kale can take anywhere from 45 to 60 days to harvest. The leaves should be around the size of your hand for adult harvesting. You can harvest baby leaves a bit earlier. Take the outside leaves first so the inner leaves can continue to grow larger.
Turnips – Six Seed Crops To Plant Before Your Last Frost
Turnips are another root vegetable that grow best in the cool weather of early spring or fall. Not only can their tasty roots be harvested, but you can also harvest their greens around a month after planting.
Turnips are an easy plant to grow from seed, and they have a lot of use in the kitchen as well. They can be baked, roasted, mashed, or even eaten raw.
You can plant turnip seeds as soon as the soil is workable in early spring. This crop thrives when temperatures are between 40º and 75º F (4º to 24º C). Since they are root vegetables, you will want to ensure that your soil is loose and not compacted. Adding compost will help with heavy soils like clay.
Loosen the soil to about 12 inches deep prior to planting seeds. Create a trench or holes about ½ inch deep. Plant and space seeds about 1 to 2 inches apart, keeping the rows about a foot apart in the process. Cover with soil and water well.
Turnip seeds will germinate in around 7 to 10 days. When seedlings are a few inches tall, thin so you have one plant every 4 inches. Add mulch to suppress weeds and help retain moisture.
You can harvest turnip greens when they are tender and small (at least 4 inches tall). Simply cut greens off, leaving about 2 inches on the base. Don’t cut all of the greens at once if you plan to harvest the root vegetable.
Check your specific seed variety packet for exact time frames, but you can harvest turnip roots between 5 to 10 weeks after planting. Turnip roots are most tender when they are around 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
Onions – Six Seed Crops To Plant Before Your Last Frost
Onions just might be one of the more versatile vegetables out there – and not just in terms of cooking!
Unlike most vegetables, onions are a biennial crop, which means that it takes two full years for onions to mature and produce seeds.
If you are looking for those giant, hand-sized bulbs you see in your grocery store, planting from seed in the spring is not the route to go for a harvest this year. (To read more in-depth on the topic of the difference between onion seeds and onion sets, check out this article “Should You Plant Onion Seeds Or Onion Sets?”.)
But if you are wanting to harvest green onions, spring onions, or smaller bulbs in the fall, then planting from seed is a great option. The best advantage to growing from seed is that you have a better selection of different varieties you wouldn’t otherwise find in local garden centers.
To plant onion seeds, first, you need to ensure that your soil is loose and has plenty of organic matter. Amend with compost if you have overly heavy or clay-like soil. As soon as you can work the soil in early spring, create a trench that is around ¼ inch deep. Plant seeds about every inch and lightly back fill with soil.
Water well to help set the seeds in place.Seeds will germinate in around 7 to 10 days. If you are wanting to harvest them as green onions, you do not have to thin seeds.
If you are wanting to harvest later as spring onions or in the fall as smaller bulbs, thin to one plant every 3 to 4 inches. Mulch the area with several inches of an organic product like shredded leaves or straw.
You can harvest green onions as soon as the greens are around 6 to 8 inches tall. Trimming off only the greens will allow the onion to continue producing and growing.
Wait around 8 weeks or longer after planting before harvesting the entire green onion. The plants should be around an inch in diameter or around 12 inches tall at this time.
For spring onions, wait at least 8 weeks or longer after planting before harvesting. Gently loosen the soil around each bulb and pull the entire plant from the ground. Spring onions will have a stronger flavor than green onions, but not as strong of a flavor as mature bulb onions.
Wait to harvest until the fall for small to medium-sized onion bulbs.
Planting any one of these seed crops in your garden or raised beds this spring is a great way to get a head start on your gardening season. You will be rewarded with an early harvest that will take you right up until the warm summer months. Don’t forget to consider planting them again in the fall for an even longer gardening season!
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