By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener
It is that time of year where we turn our attention to thoughts of what we would like to grow in the coming season. Because of the pandemic, many of us have dabbled in sowing some seeds indoors. It does require time, space, proper lighting and the patience to check your seedlings every few days for proper moisture levels or any signs of disease.
Begin planning your garden early. Now is a good time to browse through the seed catalogues and decide what crops you want to grow based on your own likes and dislikes, as well as how much of each you will need.
If you don’t have the time or desire to start seedlings indoors, there are many vegetables that can be seeded outdoors in the very early spring. They are known as cool season crops.
I look forward to getting out into my garden in the early spring, however, we should not start digging too soon as there are many beneficial insects and native bees that overwinter in the soil or under leaf litter. They all need time to emerge from their long winter nap. By growing cool season crops, I get to play in my garden early and benefit from a good supply of fresh vegetables.
All the following vegetables can be seeded outdoors as soon as the soil is workable.
LETTUCE & GREENS
There are so many varieties of salad greens such as leaf, mustard, arugula and mesclun. Lettuce is generally a cool season plant, but newer varieties have been developed that will grow happily in the summer. Salad greens can bolt quickly when the weather gets really warm, however, there are varieties that are more bolt tolerant. I usually choose seed that I can sow early in the season. These particular varieties can withstand some shade in the summer so I plant the seed behind a larger vegetable such as kale so that they get the protection they need from the hot sun. Be sure to check the seed package to understand when to sow, how to harvest, and how quickly the lettuce will bolt.
Carrots need good drainage and work very well in raised beds. They work best when planted as soon as the soil can be worked. They require plenty of sun. The cultivated carrot originated in Afghanistan and was purple. According to William Dam Seeds, they believe the orange carrot was developed around the 16th Century. There are many different varieties and some of my favourites are the Nantes and I had great success last year with Nantes Napoli.
I find Kale a very easy vegetable to grow and it will last well into the fall. It likes well drained soil. It is best to harvest the young leaves as the older leaves will get quite tough and stringy. It is rich in Vitamin C and frost will actually improve its flavour. I really enjoy Vates, which is ruffled with a medium dark green leaf. By using a row cover, we were enjoying kale in our salads well into the fall.
Radish is amazingly quick to germinate. I think they add the perfect crispy, peppery taste to a salad. If you plant the seeds early, it will be one of the first vegetables ready for harvest. Radishes also work well for Succession Planting. Radish varieties have evolved over the years and there are now several different sizes and colours. I enjoy the French Breakfast varieties.
Homegrown peas, whether cooked or raw always taste amazing. Taller varieties do require some kind of support and will benefit from a fence or string for the vines. Dwarf varieties are ideal for smaller gardens and don’t require support. They do need lots of sun but will tolerate some shade in the summer. Smaller peas are tastier than larger ones, so be sure to harvest often. The edible garden pea dates back to 16th century England. I will admit not to have a lot of luck with peas. I may be getting them planted too late in the spring and with instant summer heat, they do not do well! I am determined to try again this year. My favourite are sugar snap peas and I would like to try one called Sugar Ann, that matures in 55 days and is a dwarf variety.
A favourite cool season vegetable to grow is the vitamin-rich spinach. Spinach can be eaten cooked or raw and is full of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and calcium. They mature quickly. As the plants grow, harvest the outer leaves often to encourage fresh leaf production, but pull the plants before they bolt. Once the flowering process begins, spinach quickly turns bitter, so don’t wait to harvest. Row covers are advisable to protect the plants from leaf miner. Many varieties have been developed to resist Downy Mildew.
A good resource for seed planting is Planting Chart Cheat Sheets – Square Foot Gardening
To understand your first and last frost date and when to plant, check out the following on-line tools OMAFRA Frost Dates