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In the Vegetable Patch:
Get Started Early

by Nellie Neal

Take four steps to make your garden the first on the block to reward your work and tastebuds with homegrown vegetables. 1) Build a raised bed if your soil is heavy or warms slowly. You’ll be planting weeks sooner in soil you’ve made yourself and put into a simple frame of cinder blocks, 1x6 treated wood boards, stacked bricks or landscape timbers. 

2) If your soil’s good, but the air temperatures keep a chill around, build a portable coldframe to use the sun’s heat to warm your planting bed. Place an old window frame on top of bricks or stretch clear plastic over pvc pipe hoops and secure it by clamps or even duct tape – anything you can fashion to cover the soil will work to trap warm air. Keep the soil covered all night, but lift one side to let in fresh air on warm days. Remove after seeds sprout or night temperatures rise to acceptable levels for your small plants. 

3) Be a smart seed sower to speed up the spring vegetable garden. Layer an inch of good potting soil on top of your garden bed to make a super seed bed for small sized seeds and to keep moisture constantly available to help them sprout. Soak big seeds for an hour or two in warm water to break their seed coats and speed their sprouting. Don’t overcrowd seeds when you sow – when you must thin, the process slows down by a day or so at least. And press seed gently into soil with your fingers rather than burying them in a trench with a hoe to avoid planting too deep. 

4) Pick early season winners to plant first – vegetables that can take a cool spell without setback and those that must be planted early to avoid heat and inevitable insect invaders. Start with the root crops like beets and carrots whose main business happens safely down in the soil. Go for head lettuces next from transplants and leafy lettuces from seed. Remember that lettuces, including the popular mescluns, need light to sprout, so sprinkle them onto a good seedbed and lightly press to just bring them into contact with the soil. 

Then look for varieties of your favorite vegetables marked ‘early’ (like ‘Early Girl’ tomato) and plant corn early so it can bear before the dreaded corn earworm gets started. You’ll be harvesting while other gardeners are still planting!



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