The calendar says that the first day of spring is March 20th. The first day of spring seems to be a widely anticipate day in the gardening world: it’s getting warmer, the threat of any crazy weather is past (at least temporarily…Snow in April has definitely happened in Kentucky more times than is probably considered normal), seeds have likely been ordered at this point, preparations are being made for tilling and getting the ground workable, and then it’s finally time to plant!
Why wait until spring to start seeds, though? Thanks to the advancement of garden tech such as heat mats, seeds can be started sooner rather than later. While we’re waiting out the last few days of winter, here are 10 vegetables you can start NOW for a great growing season!
- Broccoli: Start indoors 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost (contingent upon your growing zone). Broccoli reaches maturity in about 60-65 days from transplant stage. Set out as transplants in the garden 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost. Harden off the seedlings for a few days before transplanting.
- Onions: Onions need significant time indoors before being transplanted outside. Some folks start them in January or early February. Once seedlings reach 2-3 inches tall, harden them off and then transplant outside, at the earliest 3 weeks before the last spring frost. You can start onions from seed, but planting sets in the ground, as compared to direct seeding, reduces the risk of pests and disease.
- Cabbage: Early growing varieties can be set out as transplants 4 weeks before the last spring frost. Start seeds indoors at 1/4 inch deep, 2 inches apart, and when temperatures outside stay consistently above 50F and the seedlings have three leaves, they can be planted outside. Maturity is 40-90 days after planting from transplant stage.
- Cauliflower: Can be started indoors 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost. Cauliflower also needs additional moisture and organic matter so as to prevent “buttoning”, which is development of premature, smaller-sized heads, rather than one full-sized head. From transplanting, maturity is reached at about 75-85 days, so a bit longer than broccoli. Be patient!
- Lettuce: Start indoors at six weeks before the last spring frost, and set them out 3 weeks after starting. You can also direct-seed two weeks before the last frost as well. Lettuce matures quickly, some varieties reaching full growth at 45 days.
- Peppers: Peppers need warmer soils and temperatures (at least 70 degrees for germination and 65 degrees after transplanting), so when starting pepper seeds, keep them in a warm spot in your home. Before transplanting into the garden you can warm the soil with black plastic mulch. Start 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost. Harden off the seedlings about 10 days before transplanting.
- Radishes: Radishes are a popular spring crop because of their tolerance to colder temperatures and their rapid growth time (spring varieties reach full maturity in about 30 days). Radishes typically do better when directly sown, rather than as transplants, so direct sow radish seeds about 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost. They are frost-tolerant, though, so don’t worry if you’re off by a few days.
- Peas: Like radishes, peas also do well directly seeded, compared to being transplanted. Sow 4-6 weeks before frost, when soil temperatures are around 45 degrees. Be sure the seeds do not sit too long in wet soil, or they will not germinate. Peas also produce more strongly when seeds are soaked overnight before planting.
- Tomatoes: Also like peppers, tomatoes need warmth for growth and germination, many varieties not reaching full maturity until 90 days or so. This is why many gardeners start their tomatoes early (Anywhere from 5-8 weeks before frost). Growing seedlings also need as much direct sunlight as possible. If that’s not a plausible option for you, consider growing seedlings on a heat mat. Don’t let them try out before they germinate; mist, do not soak. Move them from heat as soon as they grow so they don’t get “leggy”.
- Eggplant: Start eggplant about six weeks before frost, or a couple of weeks after you start tomatoes and peppers. Grow them under lights for 14-16 hours a day and move to a larger container when the seedlings have 3 leaves. When seedlings are about 8 weeks old, they can be transplanted outdoors into the garden (harden them off first- bring them inside when temperatures drop below 55).