What to plant in early spring
And by “early spring” I mean “when it’s just warm enough to go out and garden, but still too cold to do it barefoot.” Not yet hot enough for tomatoes, but perfect for peas and leafy greens.
SF Bay Area note: Around here, you can start planting these crops in February, and keep planting them until late March or April.
I prefer snap peas: they’re sweet and crunchy and you can eat the whole thing, pod and all. Give them a trellis to climb or get a self-supporting variety, and plant them along the north edge of your garden so they don’t shade the shorter plants.
Carrots are a little tricky to grow, but absolutely worth it: homegrown carrots are infinitely better than store-bought ones. (And you can trick most picky children into liking vegetables by letting them pick their own carrots from your garden.)
Carrot seeds need to stay moist and dark until they sprout, which can take a few weeks. I’ve had the best luck by planting lots of seeds, sprinkling some soil over them, and then covering them with a piece of cardboard (to keep the moisture in and the light out). Lift the cardboard and peek underneath every day or two: if it starts to dry out, give it a some water, and if slugs start to hang out on the underside of the cardboard nibbling at your seedlings, dispose of them as you see fit.
Lettuce, arugula, spinach, mesclun (a.k.a. baby salad mix), chicory, mâche, etc. are all easy to grow from seed, though I usually pick up a nursery 6-pack of mixed lettuce seedlings for the instant gratification.
And yes, as soon as you plant your seedlings, you can absolutely let your kids pick one leaf from each one and show off their 100% homegrown salad
When the weather gets hot, most salad greens will start to bolt and turn bitter — replace them with something else, or look for a heat tolerant or “slow-bolt” variety.
Collards, kale, chard, mustard greens, cabbage, bok choi and other sturdy-leafed greens are wonderfully cold-tolerant, and most will grow through the winter. Collards are the only ones that will make it through summer’s heat without bolting and turning bitter, though.
If you harvest just the outer leaves and leave the inner ones, the plant will keep producing for a long time.
I love cauliflower and broccoli, but don’t usually have the patience to grow a whole plant for a single harvest. If you do grow these, remember that the leaves and stems are edible, too. Or try “Chinese” broccoli, which produces many small florets instead of one big one.
You can plant onions, garlic, scallions (green onions), leeks, chives, and shallots in fall or early spring. Green onions are the easiest for beginners to grow — they don’t form bulbs, and you can harvest a few any time you need them. (And once you have them right there, you’ll start using them more often.)
If you can, plant strawberries in their own area; they’ll spread out and keep producing for a few years. They don’t produce much fruit per plant, but they’re fun.
Beans and beets like it a little warmer than this, but if you have a whole packet of seed, you can go ahead and plant one square or row now. If they don’t germinate, you can re-plant them in a month or so.