Although spring is on the way, it’s too soon to plant vegetables that need warm soil and temperatures, like tomatoes or eggplants. But you can still grow many fresh vegetables in your garden as long as you choose hardy crops.
Broccoli, English peas, collards, cabbage, kale, mustard greens and spinach are cold-hardy and able to withstand even hard frosts, when the temperatures drop to 25 to 28 degrees.
Semi-hardy vegetables, including beets, celery, lettuce, Swiss chard, cauliflower, carrots, endive and rutabagas, can take light frosts with temperatures that go no lower than about 29 to 32 degrees.
As you plan your hardy crops, think about how you’ll use them. If you want to have enough beets, carrots or other vegetables to can, freeze or pickle, mark the date you sowed the first batch of seeds on a calendar. Then circle dates on the calendar about every two weeks, to remind you when to sow more seeds. This will keep lots of delicious, fresh veggies on your table.
If you’re going to preserve or “put up” any of your foods, it will also help stretch out the work, so everything doesn’t come in — and need your attention — at the same time.
There’s no hard and fast rule for how much of each crop to plant for your family. But you can get a rough idea about yields by reading your seed packet. A general rule of thumb is that four tomato plants, for example, will produce enough fresh tomatoes to feed a family of four over one growing season. You’ll need more plants if you plan to can tomatoes.
That same family would also be fine with about two cucumber plants, three eggplants, and 10 lettuce plants, but again, sow more seeds if you’ll do any processing. Adjust for your family’s favorite foods, too. There’s no need to plant lots of zucchini if nobody likes it.
When you’re ready to sow your seeds or set out vegetable starts, be sure the soil is dry enough to work. Getting into your garden while the soil is wet can compact it, making it hard for plants to develop deep, strong roots.
Once your garden is dry enough to work in, pull up any plants still standing from last year’s garden. Compost them, or dump them in the trash if they show signs of pests or disease. You don’t want problems to multiply and spread. Take time to pick up or rake out stones, sticks and twigs. Thoroughly remove any grass or weeds.
Till or deep your soil 6 to 8 inches for most hardy vegetables. Root crops like beets and carrots need soil that’s loosened 8 to 12 inches deep, or they can be grown in raised beds filled with plenty of good organic matter and loose soil. Vining root crops, like potatoes, are often grown in mounds or hills of loose soil.
If you’ve never made a sketch of your garden before, this is a good time to start. Jot down where you planted each kind of vegetable, so you can refer back to it next year and rotate your crops. Rotating crops helps reduce the build-up of pests and diseases in your garden.
Image of tomatoes: Michael Nolan. Learn more about our Stretch Gardening series.