Start your spring vegetable garden now

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By Dennis Morgeson

Now that the economy has slid into decline and money is tighter it seems it’s time for us to get back to the basics. What better way to do that than to plant a vegetable garden?  Mid to late March is an ideal time to plant your cool season or spring garden.  Potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, peas, and many other crops can be planted this month.  Lettuce can also be planted, however you will want to cover it with remay fabric (tobacco canvas).  If you haven’t started cole crop (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc.) seedlings yet, you should just buy the plants in a few weeks from a trustworthy nursery.  This will save you time and trouble unless you are growing a great deal of it.

 If you haven’t had your soil tested, you still have time to get it back before it is too late for your spring garden.  It generally takes only a couple of weeks to return.  In Washington County the test will cost $5, however it can save you a lot more than that on fertilizer and guessing.  The soil test will also test the calcium level in your soil which will also tell us how likely you are to have blossom end rot on your tomatoes this year.

Vegetables for a spring garden grow best at relatively cool temperatures (55-65 degrees).  These plants produce their vegetative growth during spring’s short cool days.  If they are planted too late, summer heat will reduce the quantity and quality of your produce. Cool season crops planted too late may bolt, become bitter, and have a poor texture.

Spring vegetables should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.  A light frost will not harm most cool season plants after they have become acclimated to the garden.  A few years ago we had our 100-year April freeze with temperatures down to 18 degrees and my cole crops, lettuce, and potatoes were damaged but they grew out just fine.  If they get acclimated, they will generally survive some pretty frigid weather.

When working the soil in the spring, make sure it is dry enough.  If the soil is too wet, it will become cloddy and hard.  This could change the soil structure and cause you problems for several years.  If you squeeze a hand full of soil and it crumbles easily when you let go, the soil is dry enough to work.

Generally, organic mulch is a very good idea in a garden, however not in a spring garden.  Mulch will shade the soil and keep it cool; in the spring however it is better to let the sun reach the soil.  The soil will warm faster and your crops will do better.  A black plastic mulch will help warm the soil, however it will have to be removed later in the spring because it will become too hot for cool weather plants.

You should plant cool season plants together so you can plant fall vegetables in the same place.  This will make working the soil in the summer for your fall garden much easier.  Most spring garden crops can be “double cropped” in Kentucky, credit our long growing season and the fact that we have relatively mild spring and fall seasons.  If you are going to plant a spring and fall garden and are going to “double crop,” be sure not to plant closely related crops in the same area.  This will increase the chances of disease and insect carryover problems.

For more information on growing a spring vegetable garden you can contact me at the Washington County Extension Office at 859-336-7741.