Best Spring Garden Vegetables to Chase Away the Winter Food Doldrums
Spring vegetables can perk up your diet and your mood. Not only are they a bit of fresh green that can help relieve the dull grays and browns of winter, they pack a nutritional punch that enlivens a winter diet that has relied on canned, preserved or frozen foods, supplemented by fruits and vegetables either grown in a greenhouse or shipped in from a warmer location. Planting spring vegetables is also an excuse to get outside and enjoy what one youngster was heard to call “vitamin sunshine.”
Not every vegetable will grow well in spring, however. Many garden vegetables love the summer heat, and turn up their little vegetable toes at the touch of frost. Here are a few hardy veggies to perk up your spring dinner table and get you out into your garden before the last frost has passed. Some of these plants are perennials that you can enjoy from year to year, while others are annuals that can be the first plantings in your vegetable garden.
Perennial Spring Vegetables
One of the joys of having an established perennial garden is being able to harvest fresh produce as soon as the weather warms enough for the plants to put up shoots. Many of these plants can be started at any time during the year, but some do best if planted in the early spring or late fall. They provide a tasty change from tired supermarket produce, frozen or canned vegetables. Just imagine how welcome they were in the days before refrigeration and rapid transportation.
Garlic cloves can be planted in the ground at any time during the local growing season. As long as the ground is not frozen and there is enough water available, the garlic plants will continue growing. The first shoots of garlic will poke their heads out at about the same time that snow drops and crocus are making their first appearance. Even if nipped by a late frost, the bulbs will put up new shoots. During extreme drought, the plants will die back, but will put up new shoots during the fall rainy season. Fresh garlic can add a little “bite” to soups, stews and sauces, providing a nice change for palates that are longing for something fresh to taste.
Winter or walking onions is another perennial that become available almost as soon as soil temperatures warm up enough for spring flowers to begin putting in an appearance. The bulbs can be planted at any time during the year as long as the ground is not frozen or overly dry. Like garlic, they will put up their early spring shoots, bloom, and produce new bulblets for planting. Harvest some of the green shoots as they come up, and use in any recipe that normally calls for green onion. The stalks should be bent over after harvesting to prevent moisture from collecting in the hollow stem. If you have a prolific bed, you can also pull up an onion or two that is crowding its neighbors. Properly thinned, you can get a late autumn crop of mature onions – just be sure to leave enough mature plants for regrowth the following year.
Yet another onion-y plant that puts in an appearance early in the spring. Like garlic and onions, it comes up early and produces a bloom in late spring. The grass-like blades can be snipped with scissors, and added to any dish that calls for chives or green onions. Chives can be started indoors and transplanted outside, or it can be started from seed. If starting out of doors, be aware that the new shoots closely resemble grass.
One of the very earliest perennial vegetables, asparagus picked right from your own garden is a taste treat. A healthy stand of asparagus is a testament to your gardening skills. If possible, prepare the asparagus bed in the fall. However, you can also begin one in the spring. Dig a trench that is eight to 12 inches deep, and fill it with a rich mixture of well composted straw and manure. If you don’t happen to have access to a stable or barn, a prepared mix can be purchased from your local garden store. If you prepare the bed in the fall, cover it with garden cloth, cardboard or thick pads of newspaper (organic ink only – no glossy magazine pages) to prevent weeds from developing. As soon as the ground can be worked in the spring, plant asparagus crowns in the bed. Don’t expect much from them for the first year or two – they need to get established. Keep the bed weeded and watered. In the third year, you should be able to start harvesting. Cut the asparagus spears off near the ground when they are five – seven inches tall, but before the leaf buds start to unfurl. You can continue to harvest until the spears begin to look thin – then it is time to stop and let the roots put up plants that will nourish them through the summer, preparing for another year of delicious growth.
Rhubarb is another garden plant that does well in a semi-permanent bed. Again, create a deep bed filled with rich soil and plant the rhubarb crowns early in the spring. Once the bed is established, it will practically take care of itself. Plant Rhubarb crowns in early spring or late autumn. Rhubarb needs a bit of chill to develop properly. The edible part of the plant is the brightly colored stalks, which can be used to make pies or tarts. Mixed with strawberries, it is a sure-fire taste pleaser.
Annual Spring Vegetables
Long before lettuce of any kind will survive in the garden, kale can be counted on for spring greens. It can even withstand getting nipped by a late frost – it just makes it tastier. It can be sown from seed in any well-prepared garden soil, or it can be started indoors and set out as early as the ground can be worked. It is an excellent vegetable for cold frames.
Snow peas, or sugar snap peas, are among the earliest legumes. They are a bit more delicate than kale, and will need to be protected against those late frosts. Plants can be started indoors or planted out-of-doors under cloches or in cold frames. By the time the weather has settled, vining types will be ready to climb up a support or trellis, and within a few weeks will have delicious pea pods ready for harvest.
Parsley can be started from seed directly in the garden as early as the ground can be worked. It doesn’t mind a light frost, and is technically a biennial. It doesn’t require any special care, beyond that given to any normal garden vegetable. However, it does take a long time to germinate – so write down your planting date, and make a note on the projected germination date written on the seed packet. Parsley can be started indoors, grown as a window box plant, treated as an annual in your regular vegetable garden or grown as a semi-permanent planting along the edges of your vegetable garden or even in flower beds. Don’t dismiss it as “garnish”. Parsley can be added to salads, soups, stews or smoothies. Like many leafy vegetables, it has an amazing array of vitamins and minerals.
Plant spinach in ordinary garden soil as early as the ground can be worked. It germinates quickly and can provide a nice batch of greens early in the spring growing season. It does not endure warm weather well, so plan to feed that bed and plant something less heat-sensitive later in the season.
This green will keep on growing throughout the season, but it truly tastes best in the spring and fall when the nights are cooler. However, as green, leafy vegetables go, this is one of the easiest to grow. It does not require anything special – just normal garden soil, water, and weeding as needed.
This is just a short list of vegetables that can be planted in the early spring. To me, there is no greater joy than trudging past those last patches of snow, opening the cold frame and picking a fresh sprig of parsley or snipping a few strands of fresh garlic. That opens the door to later spring goodies, such as asparagus sautéed in butter or crunchy, fresh snow peas.
I hope this list of veggies will inspire you to explore the possibilities of your backyard garden. As always, if you have enjoyed this article, please share it. Write your comments below – we would love to hear about your favorite spring vegetables.