Wednesday, July 8, 2020
July 8, 2020

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Gardening with Allen: Cool-weather vegetables don’t need to wait till May to be planted


My neighbor is already planting vegetable seeds. Isn’t it too early to plant? Would you please explain which vegetables can be planted now?

Vegetables are divided into two groups based upon their tolerance for frost and cool temperatures. The cool weather group can be planted well before the average last frost date, which is mid-April in lower elevations. The warm weather group can be damaged by frost and does not grow well until the weather warms in May. It is easy to differentiate the two groups based upon what part of the vegetable is eaten. If you eat the roots, stems, leaves or flower buds it belongs in the cool group. The two exceptions are potatoes and sweet potatoes, which belong in the warm group. If you eat the fruit of the plant, it belongs in the warm group. Again there are two exceptions. Peas and fava beans belong in the cool group.

March and April are good times to plant cool-weather vegetable seeds and plants, although they can also be planted later. Soil is warm enough now to germinate seeds of root crops such as radish, carrot, beet, onion and turnip. It is also warm enough to germinate seeds of leaf vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale and collards. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts can also be planted from seed now. Started plants of many of these cool-weather vegetables are also available in nurseries and garden stores. Peas do best when planted from seeds.

Soil preparation

Vegetables grow best in soils with lots of organic matter. I like to rototill leaves and grass clippings into my vegetable garden soil in the fall so they will have time to decompose. If I miss that opportunity, I spade or till 2 or 3 inches of bark dust into the soil in the spring. I also add lime at the same time to increase the pH to a more favorable level for vegetables. I add general-purpose fertilizer such as 16-16-16 at planting time.

Raised beds are very good for vegetable planting. Raised beds are usually 10 to 12 inches high with side boards. They are typically filled with artificial soil mix that contains at least one-third organic matter. These soils drain well and are easy to plant into when other soils remain wet and sticky. Their loose texture make them easy to work without tilling or spading.

Vegetables like leaf lettuce and spinach can also be grown in containers as small as 6 inches in diameter.