Do you daydream every year about getting a jump-start on your garden by planting a veggie patch – only to find that April and May zip by in a flurry of busy days, galoshes and graduations? Many of us are finding ourselves with a little more time on our hands, and in our homes, than we normally have. And with the days getting warmer – and maybe the walls getting closer – it’s the perfect opportunity to go outside and get our hands in the dirt.
There are several vegetables that thrive in cooler spring temperatures, many of which can be started from seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill and transplanted into the garden in just a few weeks. Some seeds can even be sown directly outdoors right now. You’ll be harvesting greens by Memorial Day and won’t have to worry about navigating a crowded produce aisle next time you decide to toss a salad.
We’re in Zone 5 here in northern Illinois, which means we have a typical last frost date of around May 15. But there are a variety of veggies you can get in the ground well before then, starting with peas, which can be sown directly into the garden from seeds as soon as the soil thaws enough to be workable.
Around mid-April, four weeks before the last frost date, you can put your cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce and spinach seedlings in the ground. If you started these seeds indoors, allow them four to six weeks to mature before transplanting. Otherwise, ready-to-plant vegetable seedlings are for sale at most garden centers.
Between mid and late April, two to four weeks before the last frost, your broccoli seedlings can be transplanted into the garden. And radishes and turnips can both be planted from seeds right into the garden at the two- to four-week mark as well. Finally, in late April to early May, two weeks before the last frost, you can get your cauliflower seedlings into the ground.
Planting your own vegetable garden can seem intimidating – it’s not! Starting with cool season types that can withstand a bit of frost and have a short growing season – many are finished by June – is a great way to get your feet wet. And once you begin harvesting fresh produce from your own backyard, you just might find yourself looking for ways to extend the season. Luckily, summer is right around the corner.
[Sarah Marcheschi is a master gardener for the University of Illinois Extension serving Kane, Kendall and DuPage counties. The “Learning to Grow” column runs during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.]