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The first vegetables that you can directly sow in the garden are “cool-weather” crops, including greens, peas, and some root crops. They’re nutritious, delicious, and fast-growing for the earliest harvests. See how to grow five vegetables that thrive in the cool weather of spring.
5 Vegetables to Start in Early Spring
The secret to a bountiful early harvest is choosing the right seeds. As you peruse catalogs or seed kiosks during the cooler months, keep this in mind: Choose cold-resistant vegetables to plant this spring, and “well begun, you’ll be half done.”
Spinach loves cool weather! One of the most versatile and nutritious greens, spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is simple to manage and can be harvested multiple times in a season. 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.
If you plant EARLY, spinach will grow vigorously and quickly. As soon as it’s not cool, spinach stalls.
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 to 50 days after planting).
Spinach will regrow several times during the season, providing a large and staggered crop.
What the Cook Took: Eat spinach and other leafy green vegetables raw or lightly prepared to retain the most nutrients. 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. If you’re left with liquid at the bottom of the pan, use it to make a sauce so that no nutrients go to waste!
Got a sweet tooth? Grow sugar snap peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) for a sweet and crunchy early crop. Snap peas have edible pods, so pick them right off the vine and eat them whole. These prolific legumes are best fresh, so make sure that you get out there and pick them while they’re in season! Add snap peas to salads, throw them into stir-fries, or cook them on the grill for a sweet and satisfying crunch.
Snap peas are cold-resistant but not tolerant of heat, so get them into the ground 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost has passed.
Plant seeds just 1/2 to 1 inch under the soil and cover up! Spread seeds 2 inches apart in early spring and you’ll have a crop in 6 to 8 weeks!
These vines grow up trellises easily, with little training necessary. Start picking peas once they are bright green and plump.
What’s in a Pea? Having a hard time remembering the difference between types of peas? Let’s simplify things:
Snow peas are tangy and crisp, growing thin peas in flat pods. Eat the pod and peas.
Sugar snap peas are sweet and crisp, growing small peas in round pods. Eat the pod and peas.
Shelling peas are sweet, growing full, round peas in bulging pods. Shell and eat the peas; discard the pods.
As well as being an excellent source of puns, 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. Beets can also make an organic pink dye for tie-dyeing shirts or homemade Easter eggs.
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).
A History in Black and White: Ancient Greeks and Romans grew beets for the medicinal properties of their leaves and the food value of their roots. Early cultivars known as Roman beets were either black or white, unlike the common red or yellow varieties grown today.
4. Lovely Lettuce
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!
A Bad Omen? Long ago, parsley was seen as a sign of death. Ancient Greeks associated the plant with Archemorus, the “Forerunner of Death,” and decorated caskets with wreaths of the herb. It was also thought that the slow germination of parsley was a result of the seed traveling to hell and back!
Other cool-weather vegetable that can be seeded in very early spring include:
Asian Greens (Mizspoona, Pac Choi, Tatsoi)
5 Veggies to Start in Winter!
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.