Many gardeners don’t bother with growing vegetables during early spring due to lingering winter weather conditions and cold temperatures. However, there are a variety of vegetables that thrive in cooler temperatures. The first category of vegetables that can be planted in early spring are cold hardy vegetables in the Brassica family that are descended from the wild cabbage.
These cold hardy crops can be planted after the snow has melted during mid-February. Kale, collards, peas, onions, and radishes can be directly planted outside your garden. Cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are best started indoors 4 – 6 weeks earlier before planting them outside. Other vegetables can be planted 2 – 3 weeks later in early March, including beets, carrots, potatoes, and parsnips.
Depending on your hardiness zone, the time to plant cold season vegetables varies. Research your planting zone before planting to help you determine when to plant certain crops. Growing vegetables in early spring offers advantages including lower water needs and less pests. Some even benefit from a light frost, which improves their flavor by converting starches into sugar. Below is a recommended list of vegetables that you can try to grow during early spring.
Lettuce is a popular vegetable with hundreds of varieties, the main categories being leaf lettuce, iceberg, romaine, and butterhead. Most varieties can be sown directly in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked, which can be as early as 8 weeks before the last spring frost. To protect lettuce from frost, cover with sheets or insulation blankets available at the garden center. In addition to being used for salads, they can be used in lettuce wraps, sandwiches, and burgers.
Peas are a great cool weather crop that is easy to grow and produces a refreshing flavor. It can be a fun experience harvesting the peas and eating them out of their pea pods. There are many varieties of peas you can grow, including shelling peas and snap peas. Depending on their variety, you may need a trellis to support them. You can obtain a good harvest of peas if you grow them in a raised garden bed with a trellis, which gives them plenty of space to flourish. Due to their sweet, pleasant taste and health benefits, peas are popular with children.
Potatoes are a great crop that can be planted in the ground in rows or mounds, in raised beds or containers, and in potato bags. They can be planted in early spring, with peas. Although they are very sturdy and can thrive in a wide range of conditions, we recommend raised garden beds for a plentiful yield. Do not use potatoes from the grocery, which are not certified disease free, and purchase certified seed potatoes instead. A week before planting, cut your seed potatoes into smaller pieces, with each piece containing at least 1 or two eyes. Plant potatoes smaller than a gold ball whole.
If you are a picky eater or do not like vegetables, potatoes are a good choice due to their high versatility in recipes. Potatoes can be planted during the spring when temperatures reach at least 40°F. A good source of fiber, potatoes can improve digestion and reduce cholesterol levels.
Carrots are cold-hardy and can tolerate low temperatures in the ground if left protected. A cool season crop that can be sown in very early spring, they can be planted 3 weeks before the last expected frost date. It can be fun to experiment to grow different types of carrots. In addition to the standard orange, they come in a variety of colors, such as purple, yellow, and white. Good soil is extremely important for carrots; otherwise, they can become knobby or misshapen. Avoid amending the soil with nitrogen rich material, which can cause them to grow side roots. Like other root vegetables, they do not like to be transplanted, so they should be directly sown.
5. Swiss Chard
Many people may be unfamiliar with Swiss chard, a relative of the beetroot family commonly grouped with mustard greens. Known for its brightly colored stems of red, yellow, pink, and purple, it has a similar taste to spinach but is milder in flavor. Swiss Chard should be planted in early to mid-spring 2 – 3 weeks before the last frost date. It prefers nutrient rich soil with good drainage properties. Like other leafy greens, it contains an abundance of nutrients including vitamins A, C, and K, making it a nutritious crop to plant.
Shallots are a fragrant crop resembling a small onion, with a milder taste containing a hint of garlic that adds a depth of flavor to many dishes. They can be planted late fall or early spring. Commonly grown from sets, which are a small grouping of individual bulbs, shallots prefer rich, light, and well-draining soil. Since they are considered a gourmet crop and pricier than onions, they are good for planting at home to reduce costs.
Onions are a popular vegetable commonly grown in the spring. Short day onions, which begin to develop bulbs once daylight hours increase to 10 to 12 hours a day, are ideal for gardeners in the southern states with mild winter climates. Long day onions require 14 hours or more of daylight, and are usually grown in the northern states. Before planting, check to see which varieties are suited for your area. Although they can be grown from seed, onions are most often planted as small bulbs known as sets.
Kohlrabi, although called German turnip, is actually a cultivar of wild cabbage. It is a stout vegetable with a taste between cabbage and broccoli stems. When grown in hot weather, it can encounter problems such as heat stress and touch stems. The ideal time to sow kohlrabi is 3 – 4 weeks before the last frost date. It can be eaten in many ways – fried, steamed, or roasted – and is often used in salads or coleslaw.
Chives are perennial herbs related to onions that produce edible leaves and flowers. Although chives are derived from the Allium genius, they are not onions. Chives have a more delicate taste than green onions, making them suitable for garnishes. They are a cool season crop that is best planted during early to mid-spring for an early summer harvest. The two kinds commonly grown are known as common chives and garlic chives. Garlic chives are similar to common chives, but have flatter, greener leaves and can grow to 20 inches in height. Recommended for zones 4 – 9, garlic chives are less cold hardy than common chives. We recommend planting chives in our Herb Garden series.
Broccoli can be planted in the cool weather of early spring in containers or directly in the ground. Rich in nutrients and vitamins, it is a good source of Vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, iron and fiber. Keep in mind that broccoli takes a long time to mature, from 100 to 150 days. Depending on your weather, it can be started indoors 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost date, or outdoors 2 – 3 before the last frost date.