IT MAY SEEM too early, but March is the ideal time to plan and begin planting a vegetable garden. In the first weeks of the month, it is great fun to peruse seed catalogs, seed company websites, and local garden centers. Organic, non-GMO seed company Renee’s Garden carries vegetable, herb, and flower varieties for home gardeners with exceptional flavor and garden performance, including timetested heirlooms. Botanical Interests seed company also carries many organic and heirloom seed varieties, and it has an easy-to-navigate website that includes Sow and Grow Guides for many of its seed offerings. If last season’s seed packets are kicking around in the mudroom, test the seeds’ ability to germinate by placing 10 or so between moist paper towels. Blown open a zip-top bag, add the seed filled paper towels and reseal, creating a de facto mini-green house. Keep warm and moist but out of direct sunlight, and if fewer than six sprout within five to seven days, it is time to purchase new ones.
Mid-month, it is time to pull on the Wellies and head outdoors to check the soil temperature with a soil thermometer, which is inexpensive and widely available at garden centers. Spinach and lettuces are frost hearty and will germinate in temperatures as low as 35 degrees, albeit more prolifically above 45 and below 70 degrees. Another general rule for early planting is that if the ground can be worked, coolseason vegetable seeds can be planted. Once sprouted, it is of the utmost importance to protect the foliage of new seedlings from frost, covering with sheets or floating row covers if the air temperature dips below 32 degrees at night. The good news is spinach and certain lettuces can be harvested in six to eight weeks, and delicious, peppery, easy-to-grow arugula will be ready within four weeks. Continue with successive
sowings, every ten days for spinach and three weeks for head lettuce, throughout spring and early summer for a constant supply of salad.
When the soil warms up a bit more toward the end of March—a safe bet is consistent temperatures near 50 degrees—kale, radicchio, and pea seeds can be sown, as well as the seeds of broccoli and root vegetables like radishes, carrots, and onions. Peas, which should be grown on a small trellis or a fence unless they are an upright variety, will be ready in 60 to 70 days. Radishes—including the beautiful Easter egg variety—will be ready to pull within one month, and baby carrots as early as 50 to 60 days, depending on the variety. Seed packet directions should offer expected harvest times.
Observing the metamorphosis from tiny seed to salad bowl is incredibly rewarding. And before farmers’ markets have opened their doors and markets have received local, organic produce, the intrepid spring gardener will have crisp radishes and arugula salad waiting steps from his or her back door.