A good garden plan is like a trusted recipe, easy to tweak and fun to put into action. Originally from my book, Starter Vegetable Gardens, this updated version of an Extra Early Spring Garden will start producing salad greens – and more – before your last frost date arrives!
Requiring less than 150 square feet (14 square meters) for three beds, the Extra Early Spring Garden uses season-stretching cold frames, tunnels, and cloches to jump-start spring for veggies that tolerate chilly conditions. Frames and covers warm the soil and allow for earlier planting times while protecting little plants from hail, wind and hungry animals. In addition, keeping plantings grouped together by season simplifies keeping up with the details of thinning, weeding and watering.
Covers to Protect Plants From Frost
You can be endlessly creative when finding ways to protect plants from cold, including the many ideas incorporated in the Garden Planner. With a plan open, click on Garden Objects (the cube icon to the left of the Drawing Tools pane). Click on the Type drop-down menu, then choose Season Extenders to display a long list of options. In this plan, I used the raised bed cover, wood cold frame, and plastic cloches, all of which can be scaled to any size. Select plants for your beds and then add covers, making sure they cover the plant icons completely, including their four corner ‘handles’.
Try out covers like you would try out plants in the Garden Planner. When you add season extenders like those used here, your earliest frost date is automatically moved up two to three weeks, depending on the type of cover. You can edit this in your plan’s Settings, but you can only stretch spring so far because most plants want longer, brighter days and warmer soil than are available in late winter before they grow well. For this reason, planting of the Extra Early Spring Garden starts no more than eight weeks before your last frost date.
Bed 1: Cold-Hardy Greens
In late winter, six to eight weeks before the last frost date, sow cold hardy greens including mache (aka corn salad or lamb's lettuce), cress, leaf lettuce and miner’s lettuce in a cold frame. Glass-topped cold frames made from old windows or shower doors provide reliable protection from ice and snow, so they are the best season-stretching devices for extra early planting. Seeds sown in cold frames germinate during mild spells. Once the plants are up and growing they can graduate to a row cover tunnel, with the cold frame moved down the bed to provide protection for sowings of spinach, arugula and more leaf lettuce.
Bed 2: Early Roots and Kale Under Row Cover Tunnels
In early spring, four to six weeks before the last frost, set out seedlings of kale, green onions and radicchio under a row cover tunnel, with carrots and radishes sown from seed. If needed, a sheet of plastic or an insulating blanket can be added for extra cold protection. I recommend weighing down the long edges with boards, which makes the tunnels easy to open for thinning and weeding. In addition to seedlings, weeds thrive under row cover tunnels!
Bed 3: Big Spring Crops
In mid spring, three to four weeks before the last frost, set out under cloches hardened-off seedlings of showy Swiss chard, bulb fennel, and cabbage family crops like kohlrabi or broccoli. Larger vegetables require wider spacing, so individual cloches are perfect for protecting seedlings from wind and animals. Parsley, pansies, scallions, and calendulas bring color and flavor to the bed, and they are not bothered by lingering frosts.
Returns from the Extra Early Spring Garden start rolling in promptly, with salad greens ready to start picking soon after planting of the third bed is complete. Production of will continue into early summer, when you can replant the space with veggies that enjoy warmer weather, like beans, squash, or sweet potatoes.