Start cool-sea­son vegeta­bles now


March is a great time to start grow­ing early cool-sea­son vegeta­bles. This group in­cludes leafy ones like spinach, let­tuce, and arugula; greens like mus­tard, bok choy, col­lards, and kale; bulbs such as onions and leeks; and legumes such as peas. Wait un­til April to plant radishes and root vegeta­bles like beets and car­rots. Warm-sea­son crops should not be planted un­til af­ter mid-May, when dan­ger of frost has past.

You can get starts from nurs­eries, or plant seeds di­rectly in the ground. Be­cause it’s still cold at night, a cold frame, low tun­nel, or hoop house­will help pro­tect your ten­der seedlings. Also, put some win­ter-weight row cover over seedlings at night to give them an ad­di­tional 4–6° F of pro­tec­tion. Even if you don’t have a cold frame or hoop house, you can put row cover on a raised bed over the plants. On ex­tra cold nights, use two lay­ers of row cover. Re­move the row cover dur­ing the day, when it is above freez­ing, and place it back on at night.

There are three im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors to con­sider for early-spring plant­ing: Plants need at least 10 hours of sun­light a day for op­ti­mum growth. We started get­ting 10 hours in mid-Jan­uary, so lack of day­light is not a fac­tor by March. Vegeta­bles can start to grow again, and bar­ring any dev­as­tat­ing deep freezes, they will con­tinue to grow and you can get cold-hardy crops ear­lier this spring.

Lots of cold-hardy vegeta­bles ger­mi­nate in cold soil. They will be slow to start at first, but they will grow as your soil warms up to 40° F and­warmer. Many of the cool-sea­son vegeta­bles don’t like our springs, when one day is cold and the next warm. Warm days cause bolt­ing (when plants think they are done and put out flow­ers). Plants that bolt are bit­ter-tast­ing. The good news is that by plant­ing early, you’ll be able to har­vest that spinach be­fore it bolts! A soil ther­mome­ter can help in de­ter­min­ing when to plant.

Air temperature is the main thing peo­ple think about in con­sid­er­ing when to plant cool-sea­son vegeta­bles. Some crops are very cold hardy, many even be­low32° F at night. That said, if you don’t have a cold frame and will be plant­ing out­side in early spring, def­i­nitely use row cover at night, and don’t for­get to check your soil tem­per­a­tures be­fore plant­ing.

Some cold-hardy crops may freeze at night even with row cover. This might not be a prob­lem­pro­vided it isn’t a re­ally hard freeze and they are al­lowed to thaw dur­ing the day. Plants must be com­pletely thawed be­fore you har­vest them. Wa­ter­ing is nec­es­sary to get crops started, but they will gen­er­ally need very lit­tle wa­ter dur­ing the early spring, once es­tab­lished.

Now is the time to plant all these great vegeta­bles and en­joy an early start to the grow­ing sea­son.

Jannine Cabossel, the Tomato Lady at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Mar­ket, is a Mas­ter Gar­dener and teaches many classes around the city. To find out­more about gar­den­ing in our high desert, visit her blog at www. gi­antveg­g­ie­gar­

Cool-sea­son crops

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