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Ready to get gardening? These cool season crops can be planted this month

The other day I stopped by Bi-Lo Supply on North Atherton Street to say hi to the guys and see what they were planting in their vegetable gardens. With the recent spate of warmer weather, we all agreed that spring is progressing and we can see the results. Spring bulbs are up and blooming, trees buds are swelling and will soon be flowering, and shrubs are leafing out. Perennial herbs such as chives and are up and growing soon to be ready for use with sour cream on one’s baked potato.

The number of cool season crops that can be planted this month is staggering. If we start with perennials, you can plant asparagus (the Cadillac of vegetables), and rhubarb now. There are root crops that can be direct seeded now such as beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes and turnips. If you had a high tunnel or cold frame you would even be further ahead of the outdoors. Some of the most nutritious vegetable crops can also be planted now using transplants such kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red and green cabbage and cauliflower.

I like to use transplants wherever possible, so I will also transplant kohlrabi, both purple and white. Kohlrabi varieties have really come a long way from when I was growing up. Back then if the kohlrabi got the size of a baseball you had to get out the chainsaw to cut it. Newer varieties can get larger and they will not be woody and tough like the older varieties. I love to eat spinach fresh in salads, steamed or stir-fried so direct seeding spinach at this time is a must. The hardest thing about direct seeding is sowing the seed too thick. If you do this with beets, you know what happens. Beets are really a fruit with multiple seeds inside so you really get a mess of beet seedlings.

The nice thing about many of these direct-seeded crops is you can use the thinnings in your salad. Also remember that the beet greens are an excellent in a salad or steamed. Along with spinach, another must crop is Swiss chard, which can be used in place of spinach in the summer. Along with some of the leafy greens I would plant some of the mustards, which are excellent addition to a healthy diet. One that everyone likes is leaf lettuces or the lettuce mixes that are available, which are so attractive in a salad. Nowadays there are so many textures and colors to grace your salad bowl. Another favorite is garden peas. There is nothing like fresh garden peas right from the garden and steamed.

I cannot forget potatoes or my grandfather Lamont, who came from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland at 17 years old, would rise up from his grave. I know that they do take up space in the garden but I can assure you that they are the winner in supplying the most return in the garden. Remember: The Irish survived on potatoes alone, so if things get tough, the potato can pull you through. My mouth is watering for some early small red skin/white flesh spuds fresh from the garden with early peas and pearl onions. You can get so many different shin and flesh colors now that a rainbow is possible at the dinner table or you can make your red, white and blue potato salad for the Fourth of July picnic.

Herbs are another favorite to be planted now. I will caution you on perennials such as the mint family, as they can take over an area. Best to keep them contained with some barrier or on an area that you do not care if they spread out. Fresh spearmint in your iced tea is a delight in the summer.

Remember not to overcook your vegetables, as you will lose the nutritional value that you are looking for. I told the guys at Bi-Lo Supply that it sounds like a lot of wonderful meals coming down the pike. Enjoy your early spring garden and let’s hope the weather cooperates and Mother Nature doesn’t throw us a curve ball.

Bill Lamont is professor emeritus in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at wlamont@psu.edu.