We’re getting some mixed signals from Mother Nature where we live. One day, it’s bright, warm, sunny flip-flop weather. The next, a spring storm is blowing in several inches of wet, heavy snow for boots only. Trying to make heads or tails of what Mother Nature has in store day to day is crazy-making. But she seems to be battling winter off successfully in spite of my confusion over which shoes to choose for the day.
Blanketed by our latest snow fall are some happy, springy flowers. And there are signs of green everywhere. So while it’s on the early side of the gardening line, I’m taking the clues from Mother Nature, and I’m putting life and limb on the line. Not MY life or limbs of course, but the life and limbs of a few early vegetables. I usually wouldn’t consider even trying to garden for at least two more weeks. But spring has sprung, and I really can’t resist. The gambler in me is ready to score on a double harvest.
In many regions, gardeners can start a handful of vegetables in early spring. These vegetables, such as onions, carrots and early peas, don’t seem to mind chilly ground or bipolar weather at all. Several varieties of spinach and lettuce love the cold, too. And if all goes well, gardeners can harvest this early round of veggies in time to plant the warm weather loving vegetables.
Warm weather vegetables, like tomatoes, squash, eggplant, corn, and beans are susceptible to cold snaps. They’re perfect for planting in the garden after the first round of hardier vegetables have matured. By that time, the ground has warmed, the days are longer, and everything is starting to feel a lot more summery. Most of the warm weather plants take longer to grow and mature over the course of the lazy days of summer.
But there’s nothing lazy about my early group of veggies. They grow and mature quickly while enduring cold and even freezing temperatures. Many of them grow underground, like carrots, onions, and beets. The ground keeps them cozy enough. For those that grow above ground, like the lettuce, I’ll have to keep my eye out for freezing temperatures. In our micro-climate, we’re not out of the woods yet. If those really cold temperatures return, I’ll cover my seedlings with a sheet. A light cover will trap the heat from the ground and create enough warmth around the little plants to prevent them from freezing.
I’m so excited, I wet my plants!
I can hardly wait to enjoy the salads we’ve planted. We’ve put in some spinach and lettuce seed along with some early peas and onions. The chives in the garden can already use a trim. I am so amazed by the growth that is already happening. It’s very out of character for Mother Nature to be some generous this early in the season!
To have a successful early harvest, first, look around, because Mother Nature gives clues for early gardening. Then choose your seeds carefully. Look for cold tolerant or “early” vegetable varieties that mature in 65 days or so. Experiment with starting your plants indoors versus sowing your seeds direct. For example, in my experience where I live, transplants have a very difficult transition. We have a lot of intense, direct sun during the day, followed by cold nights. We get strong gusty winds with snow followed by warm days and freezing nights. Plants that I’ve grown outdoors that have endured those variables from seed are able to make it.
Provide all new plants with good soil. And keep those little seedlings moist, but not soggy. Give early plants help if the temperatures drop down to the freezing mark. Sheets are fine for a brief freeze. A PVC pipe hoop house is an inexpensive option for die-hards who really want a cold weather garden and know their garden will need protection.
Hopefully, you won’t be risking life and limb of anything – including your plants. Rather, you’ll be sneaking in some home grown vegetables before the growing season has really even rolled around. Have an early-season gardening tips of your own? Share them in the comments below!