By Frank Kourt
Home & Garden Guru
We gardeners are dreamers by nature.
How else could we look at those little bitty tomato plants we start with each summer and mulch, weed feed, water and protect them from insects and other pests, and envision the red, ripe and luscious fruit that our labors will bring in a couple of months?
The seed companies know us well, which is why garden catalogs jam our mail boxes this time of year, and garden centers and home improvement stores start stocking seed packets months before we could reasonably be expected to plant them outdoors.
The dead of winter is not too soon to start dreaming about where and what we’ll be planting in our vegetable and flower gardens as soon as the soil starts to warm up.
Now is a good time to sketch out our garden plots. We need to keep in mind that the time for planting our cool weather veggies, like lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, snow peas and other crops that can withstand light frost is not really all that far away!
In choosing a spot for your early, cool weather vegetables, you’ve got to employ a bit of imagination! Take a look at the trees. Sure, right now space near trees are getting a lot of sunlight, but you have to envision what those spots will look like once the leaves come out. You always want to plant veggies in an area that gets about 6 to 8 hours of sun a day, so shady won’t do!
Next, you want a spot with well-drained soil. You can condition the soil by adding peat and working it in.
Below, I’m listing the earliest recommended planting dates for these parts for vegetables from March to the end of April. This was gleaned from a publication “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky” I got free from UK Cooperative Extension Service.
Keep in mind that these are the earliest dates you COULD plant. You need to temper that information by understanding that you want the soil moist, but NOT overly wet. (You can tell by squeezing a handful of the soil. If it crumbles readily, go head and plant. If it sticks together in a ball, wait a bit until it dries out some more).
According to the Cooperative Extension (a great resource for gardeners!), the earliest you can plant your cool weather veggies is as follows:
• Pea and snow pea seeds
• Radish, rutabaga, collard and turnip seeds; rhubarb crowns; onion sets
• Beet seeds
• Asparagus crowns
• Carrot, chard, kale, kohlrabi, onion, parsley and parsnip seeds
• Leaf and Bibb lettuce seeds and heads; onion plants
• Cauliflower, Brussels sprout and broccoli plants; celery seeds
• Sweet corn seeds
• Snap bean seeds
That takes you through the month of April. Obviously, you’re going to have to wait until things warm up and there’s little or no chance of frost before you think about putting in warmer weather crops, like tomatoes, but that’s a topic for future discussion.
And, of course, you’ve still got quite a bit of time before you can put even the early vegetables in, but now’s a good time to think about what you’re going to plant and what space you’ll be using for them.
You might even take the time you have between now and when you can plant to draw up a tentative plan to decide where to put what vegetables so that when the time comes, you’ll be that much farther ahead to the game.
It might also be well to keep in mind that as winter turns toward spring, you can be alert for any opportunities to clear your potential garden space of weeds and other debris and condition the soil, if necessary, so that when Mother Nature gives the inevitable signal, you’re ready to go!