Spring Time Gardening: Getting an Early Start

We are busy happily working in the greenhouses! Early spring is an active time for seed planting. Some vegetables need to be planted in a greenhouse and nurtured along as the Vermont summer is just not long enough for them to be planted directly in the garden. The germination of the earliest vegetables is a thrill to us and we know that they will thrill you in your gardens. Spring is a great time to think about gardening, and with a few simple strategies for season extension, it can also be a rewarding time to see a few early flowers and even to grow some cold tolerant greens. Containers are a great way to do this. They can be kept indoors on the coldest days and nights, covered up with blankets or plastic sheeting on the mildly cold nights, and left out all day and night once the weather permits. Any crate, or large pot with holes in the bottom can be filled with good quality potting soil such as Vermont Compost Company?s “Fort V” and then planted with an array of salad greens and edible blossoms such as pansies that you can cut from once they reach a few inches high. You can cut and harvest these plants and allow them to re-grow for multiple harvests, allowing you a gorgeous salad while it is still too cold to be out in the garden.

As soon as the soil can be worked in your garden, it is possible to get a jump on our seemingly late warm weather by building a simple shelter out of Number 9 gauge wire and some row cover or even old blankets and plastic sheeting. If you cut the wire into 5 foot lengths, plant each end into the ground (making a hoop) and repeat every few feet, you now have a very quick and easy tunnel frame upon which to drape your fabric thereby creating a lovely shelter for some very hardy greens. With this type of simple tunnel, a version of a cold frame, it is most important to cover it at night and uncover it in the morning. The plants can get very hot unless you use special row cover designed to stay on night and day. This type of row cover is sometimes called “Reemay” and can be found at any well stocked garden store.

The most cold tolerant food crops we can grow here are things like kale, spinach, collards, arugula, mustard greens, mache (corn salad), and many herbs such as cilantro, dill, sorrel, and chives. Certain lettuces are very cold hardy, but they cannot take the frost quite as well as the plants mentioned above--good cold hardy varieties include the French heirlooms, “Reines des Glaces” and “Merveiles des Quatres Saisons.” These most tender and delicate looking lettuces can take quite a beating when it comes to cold weather. Overall, early spring is a great time to satisfy the need for green, fresh foods that are grown locally after a long winer of leafy foods trucked in from far away. The difference in taste and the level of satisfaction you will experience is well worth the effort.