7 Crops to Kick Off Your Spring Garden

Is your green thumb itching to get gardening again? These cold-loving crops will help you get the growing season started.

7 Crops to Kick Off Your Spring Garden - Photo by Stephen Ticehurst/Flickr (UrbanFarmOnline.com)Most of us gardeners eagerly anticipate getting our hands in the dirt after a long winter indoors. To get a jump on the spring growing season requires a bit of planning, as well as knowledge of cold-tolerant vegetables and season extension techniques.

A key is to prepare the soil in the fall, so you can begin planting seeds in the spring as soon as the soil has completely thawed and warmed to the seed variety’s minimum temperature for germination. Keep in mind that heavy soils, such as clay, compact when worked while wet, preventing drainage. Allow them to dry out adequately before working them, especially if you didn’t prepare them in the fall.

Growing crops that germinate at cooler soil temperatures also helps you get an early start. (It also helps if they can withstand unexpected late frosts, though isn’t necessary if you use row covers or cold frames when the temperature is expected to dip below freezing.) To determine the soil temperature, stick a soil thermometer about 1 inch deep into the soil and allow it to stabilize. If it’s at the minimum recommended temperature, it’s time to kick off planting your spring garden. Here are seven crops to try.

1. Beets (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris)

Some beet varieties, like heirloom Chioggia, mature in as little as 45 days, making them ideal for an early crop. When soil has warmed to 40 degrees F, plant seeds 3/4 inch deep, 1 inch apart, in rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. When seedlings are 4 inches tall, thin them to 4 to 6 inches apart by cutting off the tops. Don’t pull seedlings, as this might uproot nearby plants you want to keep.

Beets tolerate soil low in nutrients but need even water to prevent becoming bitter, so keep soil moist, but not soggy, throughout the growing season.

Begin harvesting beets when they reach 1 inch in diameter, or if you want larger crops, wait until they reach 3 inches in size. Larger beets can become pithy. Beets can withstand light frost, but should be harvested before the heat of summer, which slows sugar production, making them less palatable.

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