By the time the end of winter rolls around, you may be missing the benefits of having a garden. If you can’t wait another second to plant this year’s vegetables, there’s no reason you have to wait! Even in Ohio, where the weather doesn’t really warm up until late April, there are ways you can begin planting as early as late winter – so you can finally have some fresh and delicious salad greens and vegetables on your kitchen table!
Location, Location, Location.
If temperatures are well below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, it might be necessary to start your seeds indoors. Find yourself some grow lights and a nice spot in the house where the young seedlings won’t get too much draft, and transplant into the garden when temperatures rise.
But if it’s a warm winter, you might be able to start planting outdoors sooner rather than later. The location of the garden is essential for cold-weather planting. Be sure to plant in a sheltered garden plot that doesn’t get too much wind or weather. Choose a sunny spot, because these young plants are going to need all the sunshine they can get, and be sure to pick a spot with good drainage. You don’t want the seedlings to freeze if their roots get little to no drainage.
In general, you don’t want to plant outside until the ground can easily be worked. If the ground is still frozen solid, plant seeds indoors.
What to Plant Over 35 – 40 Degrees
The following plants can be sowed when outdoor temperatures are as low as 35 – 40 degrees. Keep in mind that slightly higher temperatures may yield better results.
Salad greens, like lettuce and spinach, are some of the heartiest plants in the garden that can withstand cold temperatures. In order to get a consistent harvest, plant a few salad greens seeds every week. This way, you’ll be able to harvest groups of salad greens at different times, ensuring a consistently fresh harvest that lasts through the season. Harvest when leaves are about four inches tall.
Parsnips like cooler temperatures, and can even survive the winter, to be harvested in the spring. Parsnips are a perfect crop to plant in late winter, because ideally, they should experience two to three frosts before harvesting. Seedlings emerge in a couple weeks, and are ready for harvest in 16 weeks.
Peas are one of the earliest starters in the garden, and according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, peas can even handle being snowed on! Plant right as soon as the ground can be worked, or about 4 to 6 weeks before the expected date of last frost.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “a blanket of snow won’t hurt emerging pea plants, but several days with temperatures in the teens could. Be prepared to plant again in the first peas don’t make it.” Alternatively, try starting your peas in a cold frame, to protect against extreme temperatures.
Snow acts as a natural insulator for carrots, which don’t mind hanging out in cold soil until warmer weather arrives. Plant carrots as early as 12 weeks before the first frost date. Or you can even plant carrots in the autumn and harvest them in mid-winter so they stay fresh all winter long!
Turnips are cool weather plants that like to be sewn in autumn or late winter. You can sow turnips in the ground as soon as the ground is workable, but healthy turnips might need a cold case over them to raise the soil temperature to 40 degrees. Be sure to plant in full sun, and keep the soil fertilized throughout their growing period.
Early radish varieties grow easy and fast, and they love the cool temperatures of late winter and early spring. Plant as early as the soil can be worked in a cold frame. Harvest radishes as soon as they become large enough to eat, as keeping them in the soil too long can cause them to become woody and hot.
How to Protect Early Crops from Cold
One of the most effective ways to protect early crops from cold is to grow them in a cold case. Cold cases (or cloches) don’t have to be expensive. According to John Seymour’s book “The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It”, a cold frame is simply four walls and a glass pane. The best thing about cold frames? They encourage higher temperatures around the plants, creating a greenhouse effect.
In the absence of cold cases or cloches, be sure to apply generous mulch and straw to plants when you’re expecting a freeze.
When all else fails, don’t panic if there’s a frost. According to Gilmour, “Frost has the benefit of sweetening winter vegetables and enhancing their flavor.” Now that’s a sweet reason to plant when it’s still cold out!
One Last Thing to Remember:
As for the other fruits and vegetables you’re going to plant this year, be sure to not plant TOO early. Check all frost dates for your garden zone, and be sure to plant each crop when the time is right. Take care to not plant peppers or tomatoes too early, as they will become overgrown as the weather warms.