Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) loves cool weather and you can begin harvesting after only a few weeks! Sauté spinach leaves, throw them into a salad, or scramble them into eggs for a vitamin-rich dish.
The trick is to plant spinach early because it will bolt when it gets hot. Starts seeds about 1 week after the last frost has passed.
Spinach prefers an area with morning sun and afternoon shade. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep every 2 inches, in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Thin the sprouts when they are 1 to 2 inches tall to every 4 inches.
Start harvesting tender baby spinach at 3 to 5 weeks or wait longer for bigger, heartier leaves (about 40 days after planting).
Cooking Tip: Water-soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamin C, all B vitamins) will boil off in water, so steam spinach or cook it with little to no water rather than boiling it.
Fresh peas out of the garden are nature’s candy; their sweet taste goes starchy once they get to a grocery store. Try planting regular sweet peas, crispy sugar snap peas (with round edible pod), and/or snow peas (with thin edible pod).
Peas harvest in 6 to 8 weeks, but the best thing is that you start them very early—4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost date, even if there’s snow on the ground!
Peas are cold-resistant but not tolerant of heat, so get them into the ground as soon as it’s workable.
Plant seeds just 1/2 to 1 inch under the soil and cover up! Spread seeds 2 inches apart in early spring.
Pea vines grow up trellises easily, with little training necessary. Start picking peas once they are bright green and plump.
Beets (Beta vulgaris) are rich in iron, vitamins C and B6, and fiber. Beets are a cold-hardy and frost-resistant root crop that flourishes in northern gardens. Slice, dice, or grate beets into salads or stir-fries, blend them into dressings or smoothies, or pickle them to be saved for a midwinter snack.
Before planting, add aged manure to your soil; beets require a high level of phosphorus to grow well.
Sow seeds in soil with a temperature of 50° to 80°F for germination in 5 to 10 days.
Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart, thinning to 3 to 4 inches between plants when they are about 2 inches tall.
To thin, cut sprouts at soil level to keep from disturbing the roots of the other plants.
Keep in mind that beets are extremely thirsty, so water them regularly and heavily during the growing season.
Harvest a few early leaves to throw in stir-fries, leaving the root until later (about 50 to 70 days after planting).
Like spinach, lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a wonderful leafy green to plant early in the spring season—especially in containers. Lettuce enjoys the cool days of spring (or fall), which won’t make it bolt like the hot days of summer do.
Lettuce seeds will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40°F (though 55–65°F is preferred).
Sow seeds outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked. Soil should be loose and well-draining!
In 4 to 6 weeks, you’ll have baby lettuce leaves that are perfect for use in a salad or sandwich.
This biennial herb is often used as a garnish or in soups, as it reduces the need for salt and is a good source of vitamins A and C. Parsley seeds take a long time to germinate, so it’s good to get it started early.
Sow seeds in the garden 3 to 4 weeks prior to your last spring frost date.
Plant radishes in the gaps between parsley seeds; they will mature before the parsley needs the extra space!
Talk about quick! Radishes are quick-growing vegetables that are ready to pick in 3 to 4 weeks, so they’re fun to watch. Plus, you can seed multiple harvests in a row.
Plus, radishes take up very little space and have shallow roots. You can grow 16 per square foot in raised beds or even flower boxes.
Pick early for extra spicy radishes, pick later for more mild flavor. The taste is far superior to grocery stores—more crisp, tender, and juicy. See how to plant radishes.
Kale takes just 60 days from seeding directly in the ground to harvest. Cold-hardy kale also doesn’t mind a touch of frost.
Garden-grown kale is more tender than grocery store kale and you may find that kale haters turn into kale lovers. Tender garden-grown kale is great for salads, cooked with garlic, added to soups, used in smoothies, and more. You can also freeze kale for later use.
For spring, try a dinosaur kale with large blue-green leaves and pretty pink ribs. It’s so pretty that it makes for an edible landscaping plant, too. See how to plant kale.
8. Arugula (Rocket)
Arugula is a cold-weather green that goes from direct seed to harvest in 35 to 40 days! It’s tender rounded leaves have a peppery flavor that adds some variety to mixed salads. Arugula is also wonderful alone with a light citrus-honey vinaigrette, slivered almonds, and cranberries.
Seed directly in the soil in the spring, and harvest when young, after about 35 days.
Turnips are cool-weather no-fuss vegetables that can be grown both in spring and fall. They mature quickly the roots are excellent raw or cooked. Plus, the greens are excellent!
Try a spring variety; some harvest in as few as 35 days. Turnips are seeded directly into the garden; they do not transplant well. Plus, they germinate in only a few days. Within a month, their greens are ready to harvest, and within a second month, the swollen roots are ready to be taken up.
There are many crops that you can start even before spring has sprung! Below are 5 reliable vegetables to start off now before spring really gathers pace. Note that this is a little more advanced and some crops referenced are being seeded indoors first. But if you’re very eager, this is how to start early. The video demo will have very helpful information.
Garlic: Get it into the ground as soon as you can, spacing the separated cloves at least six inches (15cm) apart and planting them so that the pointed end faces up and sits just beneath the surface. If your soil is saturated or frozen solid, you can plant cloves into pots or plug trays to plant out later in spring.
Fava Beans: Plant outside as soon as the soil is workable, or under cover into plug trays or pots if it isn’t. Sow 2 inches deep into well-draining soil or potting mix. These top-heavy beans are best sown in double rows, leaving about 8 inches between the two rows, then another two feet to the next double row to make it easy to get between them for weeding.
Onion: Sow onions seeds in a warm place into pots of seed-starting mix. Start them off indoors. As soon as the seedlings are big enough to handle, they’re then carefully teased apart and transferred into plug trays to continue growing. Once the roots fill their plugs they’re ready to go outside, usually in mid spring, at about 6 to 8 inches apart.
Leaves Under Lights: Try getting a jump start to the season with grow lights.They’re especially handy for starting off the earliest leafy salads like lettuce, spinach and pea shoots. Scatter seed thinly into pots or trays of seed-starting mix, then grow them on for a few weeks until you’re ready to tease them apart to pot on into their own pots or plugs. By this point it may even be warm enough to plant them directly outside under the protection of cloches or cold frames. Alternatively, sow pinches of seeds directly into plug trays to grow on and plant as small clusters of seedlings.
Tomatoes and Peppers: Sow them right now, spacing the seeds at least a finger’s width apart, then lightly cover them over. Pop them into a heated propagator to speed up germination, or cover them with clear plastic to create a snug environment and place them on a warm windowsill. They’ll take up to a week to germinate, then soon after they can be individually potted up. Sinking seedlings most of the way up to their lowest leaves gives them extra support, and produces sturdier seedlings. Grow them on somewhere warm and light – those grow lights can be put to good use again – before moving them into a greenhouse or cold frame once there’s no chance of frost. In warmer areas they can then be gradually acclimatized to outdoor conditions before transplanting outdoors, but keep them away from harsh winds which can destroy these tender plants.
Consult the Almanac’s free Plant Guide Library for detailed information on the individual crops you wish to grow.