Early Season Vegetable Gardening
By Linda Workman Smith
Greetings fellow dirt diggers: Are you ready to get down and dirty—in the garden?
I collected my soil samples February 19th just in the nick of time, as the next day snow covered my landscape. It has been two years since I had my soil tested. I grow a variety of vegetables—including an asparagus bed—as well as grapes, strawberries, blackberries and several fruit trees. I’m curious to see how feeding requirements for different crops have influenced nutrient levels in my soil. I assembled samples from 7 different areas and took them to the OSU extension office in Shawnee. These will be sent to OSU—in Stillwater--for analysis. Soil testing is the first step in good gardening practice. The test will determine the pH and the quantity of nutrients that may be deficient in soil; it can also prevent unnecessary expense, labor and possible contamination of soil or nearby waterways, caused by applying fertilizers when not needed.
Each winter, most gardeners impatiently await getting back to their vegetable gardens. We gardeners just love getting our hands dirty. The average last spring frost date in central Oklahoma is mid-April. This means that until that date, some vegetable transplants or new seedlings planted outside may need extra protection in the event of a frost. However, many vegetables are quite cold tolerant and can be planted long before the mid-April frost date. Collards, onion sets, garden peas, radishes, spinach, kale, turnips, leeks, mustard, potatoes, Swiss chard, beets, cabbage family, carrots, Bibb lettuce and leaf lettuce are some crops that do best in cooler weather. Planting these cool season crops can provide an early vegetable harvest with extra sweet flavor.
Early spring planting also lets you take advantage of a gardening technique called interplanting; slow-starting or late-maturing plants are planted between or within the rows of early spring vegetables. After mid-April, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant can be planted within rows of lettuce, spinach, radishes and peas that were started 6-8 weeks earlier. By the time hot weather arrives, the early crops are ready to harvest, making room for the warm season plants to grow. Shade tolerant species like lettuce and spinach may also be planted in the shadow of taller crops. Heavy feeders, such as cabbage family members--including cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts--should be interplanted with less voraciously feeding plants. Interplanting is also beneficial in insect and disease control. Pests are frequently crop specific; that is, they prefer plants of one type or family. Mixing families of plants will break up large areas of the pest-preferred crop. Containing early pest damage to a smaller area will help control problems more quickly.
If you are going to grow transplants from seed for your warm season garden, most should be started 6-8 weeks before our last frost date so...anytime now. My biggest problem is starting too early and allowing plants to get leggy before weather permits moving them to the garden. I am forcing myself to be patient; this year I’m shooting for the first week in March.
As always…happy gardening.
Linda Workman Smith
Multi-County Master Gardener Association