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Much of Canadian gardening wisdom says that you have to wait until Victoria Day weekend to plant anything in your garden. Not true! There are a bunch of wonderful cold-hardy vegetables you can plant in your garden right away. Get out there and get planting now with these 5 simple tips:
1. How early is too early? Once all the snow melts and the rain washes away all the grit and garbage, the soil in your yard will start to warm up and dry out. A perk of gardening in a raised-bed, is that the soil dries out and warms up much faster than the surrounding area. You can plant your first cold-weather loving vegetables once the soil is around 10 degrees. It is also important that nighttime temperatures will stay reliably above zero. You can get away with a light frost as long as you protect your garden with an old blanket or a floating row cover.
2. Profile of a cold-hardy vegetable. To decide what to plant in your early spring garden, you need to pick vegetables that can tolerate a light frost. A good rule of thumb is any leafy greens or root vegetables. Lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, Asian greens, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, peas, radish, beets and carrots can all go in your garden right away. If you’re still not sure, take a look at the back of your seed packet. Anything that suggests a 10 – 15 degree soil temperature can go out in the garden right away. These vegetables prefer cool weather, and actually do better in the spring and fall than during steamy summers.
3. Map out your garden. Before you step outside to plant, make sure you know what you’ll be planting and where. Come armed with pre-written plant labels so you can keep track of what you’ve planted. You need to plant your vegetables far enough apart that each plant has enough space to reach maturity.
Plant the things you like to eat, and keep in mind how long each plant takes to grow. You can sneak in a crop of quick growing radishes before planting hot weather crops like peppers or eggplants, but kale or broccoli need to be in the garden all season long. On the back of your seed packet you’ll find all the information you need to know. “Thin to 6” between plants” means that you can fit 4 plants into each square foot, and “25 days to harvest” means that you’ll be able to replace with something new for the summer season.
4. How to plant your seeds. Dig a hole and drop in a seed would be misleading, since you would never want to dig a hole. It’s important to avoid planting your seeds too deeply. If a seed is too far underground it will not germinate. As a rule of thumb, you want your planting depth to be 3 times the width of the seed. So, a ¼” pea seed can be pushed ¾” underground, while dust-sized lettuce or carrot seed can simply be sprinkled on the surface of the soil.
Make sure to water before and after planting and keep the soil moist until your seeds sprout. A floating row cover, or plastic covering will help create a nice and cozy microclimate for your seeds to germinate in – especially in the cool outdoor weather.
5. How to transplant seedlings. Purchasing seedlings, or starting them indoors gives you a nice jump on the short spring season, and will allow you to start harvesting delectable salads by mid-May – before most of your neighbours have even started planting.
If you started your own transplants, it’s important that you acclimatize your seedlings to their new environment. Pick a mild day, and leave your seedlings out for several hours. Bring them in at night. The next day, leave them outside longer. Moving your plants outside gradually like this is called “hardening off” and greatly increases your chances of success.
Dig a hole a little larger than the pot your seedling is in. Try to keep as much of the soil around the roots to avoid disturbing them. CowPots are great, since you can plant the pot directly into the garden. Plant your seedling deeper than it was growing. All the way down to the first set of leaves. Then firm the soil with your fingertips to squeeze out any air pockets. Make sure to water deeply before and after planting.