By Karen Eaton, Conservation Garden Park
Spring is upon us and that means that harvesting tasty home-grown vegetables is finally just around the corner. The average last frost in Salt Lake County falls somewhere between the end of April and the middle of May. Throughout the state, it varies quite a bit, even along the Wasatch Front. But don’t despair! Some vegetables, or “hardy crops,” can be planted now. Others, or “semi-hardy” are just a couple of weeks behind.
Hardy crops are mostly cool-season plants that prefer cooler temperatures for top performance. These include cabbage, radish, asparagus, rhubarb, broccoli, onions, spinach, Brussels sprouts, peas, and turnips. Check the soil to make sure that it has dried enough for planting by picking up a handful of soil, squeezing it, and letting it drop to the ground. If no moisture comes out and it crumbles when dropped, it is ready to be planted. Clay soil is slower to dry out than sandy soil and soil in garden boxes warms up and dries out earlier than in-ground gardens.
Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, and broccoli can all be started from seed or transplants. Radishes, spinach, peas, and turnips grow best when directly seeded into the ground. Rhubarb is usually purchased as a transplant and asparagus can be purchased as one- or two-year-old crowns. Asparagus can also be planted from seed but should be grown for two full seasons before limited harvesting during their third season. Each year after that, asparagus can be harvested for longer periods of time. This allows the roots to become established in the early years of maturity.
By the end of March and into April, semi-hardy vegetables can be added to the garden. Beets, lettuce, carrots, parsley, cauliflower, parsnips, swiss chard, spinach, and potatoes are all part of this group. They require soil and air temperatures to be a little warmer than the hardy vegetable group. Of these, beets, lettuce, carrots, parsnips, Swiss chard, and spinach do best with the direct seeding method. They can be thinned a few weeks after planting. Parsley and cauliflower can be sown directly as seed or you can transplant more mature plants for an earlier harvest. Potatoes are started by purchasing certified seed potatoes, cutting them into pieces containing one or more eye, or planting them whole. Each plant develops from the eye instead of from an actual seed. Using grocery store potatoes or ones leftover in your garden are not a good choice as they may carry diseases that will decrease success.
Planting these early crops allows you to plant successively instead of planting your crops all at once. It really makes growing a garden more manageable and allows you to spread out the work into smaller chunks of time. By growing cool season crops, you can already be enjoying the harvest when it is time to plant the tender and very tender vegetables in May.