Spring Planting & Summer Seeding
It is March and the weather is a bit fickle but will quickly turn warm. With the warmer winds slowly making their way to Charleston, it’s time for the vegetable gardener to begin planting their Spring garden and seeding for their Summer garden. In USDA hardiness zones 9a & 8b, the zones in which Charleston sits, the growing season is year round. Because of these fortunate circumstances, vegetable gardeners will see a repetition of some of their favorite veggies in fall and again in spring.
The many root vegetables, such as; carrots, turnips, rutabagas, radish, potatoes & beets can be planted in January or February through the end of March. Root vegetables tend to perform best when seeds are direct sown into the garden after the soil has been turned and loosened after compost has been added to the garden. Keep in mind a few things about the various root vegetables:
– The funky, little beet seed capsule actually has 2-3 beet seeds in it. When planting, seed beets every inch. Once they germinate and are an inch high, you can thin the seedlings to one every 3-4” inches by snipping the unwanted stems at soil level. Harvest the outer leaves as the beet grows to enjoy in a salad or as a sauteed green.
– Carrots can take up to 28 days to germinate if the soil is too cool. While all seeds need to be kept moist for best germination rate, carrots are very fickle if they don’t have constantly moist soil. Try to plant before expected rains to help with the watering. Plow the soil at least 12 inches deep to allow the carrot an easy path when forming.
– Don’t leave root vegetables in the ground too long. They will crack or become pithy if they are allowed to mature too long.
While the sweet carrots and beets and spicy radish are savored items on the dinner table, the brassica family of vegetables can never be ignored nor would anyone want them to be. The family of Brassica includes but is not limited to broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, mustards and brussel sprouts. Oh, the satisfaction of getting that first head of broccoli or plucking the little buds off of the brussel sprout stalk is unmatched! In order to have these little garden pleasures like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, pak choi, kohlrabi and collard greens in your Spring garden, plants can be transplanted into the garden mid-February through the middle to end of March. Notice that they need to be transplanted during that time as opposed to being seeded. If you want to grow from seed most of these need to be started in December or January. And it is only fair to give a few tips on these vegetable favorites:
– The part of the broccoli that is the most desirable for harvesting is the “head”. This head is actually a large cluster of tiny buds. Harvest broccoli when these buds are still tightly closed and showing no signs of the yellow flower that is to come, although; these little flowers are edible and a tasty snack. Once the main bud cluster is harvested (from the middle of the plant), small florets will form at nodes along the stem and side shoots. These are convenient little florets as they are already a perfect size for cooking or eating raw.
– Harvest Cauliflower heads before individual florets can be seen. Purchase self-blanching varietals if you would like your cauliflower head to remain white. Or try a fun purple, orange or green varietal to add more color to your garden.
– If you have never grown kohlrabi, try it! Other than being an interesting looking vegetable, the leaves and stem of kohlrabi can be eaten and have a flavor similar to broccoli. Mix it up with purple and green varieties to add more interest to your garden.
– Plant a rosette pak choi otherwise known as tatsoi for a beautiful form and texture in your garden.
Let’s not forget about garden peas, spinach, lettuces and cool season herbs like parsley, cilantro and dill. While garden peas should be planted by beginning of March, lettuces, spinach & herb plants can be placed in the garden through late March.
Now that the cool season plantings are in the garden for the Spring garden, it is time to start seeds for warm season crops at home in seed trays. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs and flowers can be seeded in trays to give you a head start on the summer season. Many are best started in the first or second week in February but can be started in late February if you just have to have a variety that you won’t be able to find in the local garden center. As always there are some hints about growing at home:
– Make sure as soon as your seeds germinate that they are placed under a grow light so they do not become leggy. Very bright, full sun windows can work as well.
– Use sanitized trays and a clean, light, airy potting mix.
– Have good airflow in the space you are growing seedlings.
Below is a sample calendar for planting and harvesting a 4’X8’ garden space.
Row 1: Five to six chard plants (6” between plants). Harvest through May 15 then direct sow bush or pole beans.
Row 2: Three cauliflower plants (18” between plants). Harvest April 30 then plant cucumber seeds.
Row 3: Radish with cilantro at ends of row (thin to 3-4” between plants). Harvest April 1-9 then direct sow summer squash seeds.
Row 4: Four cabbage plants (18”). Harvest May 10 then transplant tomato plants.
Row 5: Row Sugar Snap pea (6-8” between plants and trellis). Harvest through May 30 then transplant eggplant.
Row 6: Four potato seeds (18”-24”). Harvest May 15-May 30 then plant okra seeds.
Row 7: Plant onions (8”). Harvest June 15 then transplant peppers.
Don’t forget to throw in some flowers to attract pollinators and to add color to your garden.