Planting a spring vegetable garden

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The unusual warm weather we are having makes many of us want to get outside and start working in our gardens. It is still way too early for our summer vegetables but the good news is that now is a great time to start a spring vegetable garden.

Vegetables can be divided into two groups based on which season they grow best. Cool season vegetables grow best in spring and fall seasons with even a few that can live through most of the winter. Warm season vegetables (such as tomatoes and peppers) do not tolerate frost and should not be planted until the chance of frost has passed which would be around mid-April.

When planting vegetables there are two ways you can plant them in your garden, either sow the seed directly in the ground or plant transplants that were grown earlier indoors. Transplants can be purchased at local garden centers and hardware stores or ambitious gardeners can start their own transplants from seeds indoors.

Root crops such as carrots and radishes do best when sown directly in the ground. When sowing directly in the ground you want to prepare the soil well and keep it moist. Cool season vegetables like broccoli and cabbage are best when transplants are planted in the garden. There are some cool season vegetables that do well either direct seeded or transplanted such as lettuce and spinach.

February and March are good times to plant many cool season vegetables for a spring garden. Below are the groups of vegetables you can plant now:

Root vegetables

Root vegetables that can be planted now include beets, carrots, kohlrabi, rutabaga, radish and turnips. These vegetables are almost always sown in place in the garden and do not need to be transplanted. The root vegetables need sandy, loose, well-drained soil for good root development. Root vegetables will be harvested at one time so you can succession plant by sowing same vegetable every two to three weeks to extend harvest time.

Onions are a unique root vegetable that you can buy sets or bulbs that are planted in February to be harvested in spring. Short day onion varieties do best in our area such as Grano, Granex and Texas Super Sweet.

Potatoes are started not by seed but instead from certified seed potatoes. Certified seed potatoes are small potatoes that have been grown under special conditions to ensure they are free of diseases and typically give better results than potatoes purchased from the grocery store.

When planting, cut seed potatoes into pieces that are each about the size of an egg and contain at least one sprout, also known as an “eye.” Reliable potato varieties for North Carolina include Yukon Gold, Kennebec and Red Pontiac, a red skin potato with white flesh and deep eyes.

Leafy greens

Leafy greens such as lettuce, mustard, turnip greens, swiss chard and spinach can be planted now. Most are quick growing and can be ready to harvest in 30 to 40 days. They can be sown directly in the ground in a wide bed or single row. You can also choose to purchase leafy greens as transplants. The leafy greens can provide multiple harvests over several weeks.

Crucifers/Cole vegetables

The crucifer or cole vegetable group includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards and kale. They are slow growing and can be planted now so they are productive over a longer time until warm spring weather arrives. These are larger plants so be sure to give these vegetables their space in the garden.

Garden, sugar snap and snow peas

The cool season peas can be sown directly in the ground in late January to early March. The later planted peas can have problems with powdery mildew disease as temperatures warm. Because these are vines that can grow 3- to 4-feet tall, be sure to provide adequate support.

So whether you are a veteran gardener who grows a large vegetable garden each year or a beginner gardener looking at starting your first garden, planting a spring garden is a great way to kick off spring. There are so many favorite vegetables that can be planted now, in a month or two you can enjoy fresh potatoes, onions, broccoli and a salad all from your own garden.

Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension agent specializing in horticulture for the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

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    Upcoming programs

    Growing Fruits & Pecans Workshop — March 13, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wayne County Extension office, The Maxwell Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro. This workshop will cover how you can successfully grow fruiting plants including muscadine grapes, blueberries, tree fruits and pecans. Registration fee is $5. Pre-registration is not required. Arrive a few minutes early to register.

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