Is your vegetable garden ready for spring?

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, February 22, 2012

 by Janet Spencer

Chances are, most of us are indeed ready for spring.

Now is a good time to start planning your early spring vegetable garden. Things like lettuce, spinach, carrots and radishes can all be planted as soon as the ground can be worked.

Around here, this would translate to sometime in mid-March. While March and April can sometimes still be cold, these crops can tolerate cooler temperatures, even limited exposure to freezing temperatures.

Here is some general information on growing these crops. Please contact your local Extension office for specific information on growing these crops or other spring vegetables.

n LETTUCE—There are several different types of lettuce. Because our temperatures warm so quickly in the spring, it is important to choose a variety that is slow to go to seed. These may be marketed as heat-resistant types.

Crisp head, also known as iceberg, has a tightly compacted head with crisp, light green leaves. This type can be difficult because it grows slowly and will bolt quickly.

Butter head, or Bibb lettuce, is a loose-heading variety that is somewhat slower to bolt, but warmer temperatures can cause the flavor to turn bitter. Romaine lettuce is an upright variety that is very easy to grow and more nutritious than Crisp head varieties.

Leaf lettuce would probably be the easiest for home gardeners to grow. It is very fast growing and much slower to go to seed than the other varieties and is adapted to many different uses.

With all of these varieties, seeds should be planted relatively shallow and where they will receive full sun. This will allow the soil to warm just enough to aid in germination.

n SPINACH—Spinach is a very quick growing crop that can be harvested multiple times throughout the season. It can be harvested from the time the plant has six to eight leaves, which with some varieties, can be as early as 40 days. Spinach will go to seed quickly when temperatures start to warm causing an off-flavor in the leaves.

n CARROTS, RADISHES—With both of these crops, it is important that plants not be crowded too close together as this will cause malformed roots. Unfortunately, the seeds of these crops are very tiny and often hard to disperse over the row.

Seeds can be mixed with fine soil, which will aid in uniformly scattering the seed. It is recommended that seedlings be thinned by hand-pulling so that roots can grow properly. Both of these crops can mature very quickly.

Carrots can be harvested whenever roots reach an acceptable size, which can occur in as little as 55 days. Radishes mature around 25-35 days. They are commonly harvested when roots are about an inch in diameter.

Like most other early spring crops, radishes will produce a seed stalk when temperatures warm, causing a “hot” flavor.

JANET SPENCER is the agriculture extension agent for Isle of Wight County. She can reached at