It’s a great time to get growing season started with hardy vegetables

The wait is over.

Spring is nearly here (officially) and it’s the perfect time to plant hardy vegetables that prefer cooler temperatures.

My general rule is that when the tulips emerge, the crocuses bloom, the garlic is a few inches tall and the forsythia buds swell, it’s time to plant cold crops.

But a more scientific way of determining whether it’s time is with weather data provided by the National Weather Service and information from Colorado State University Extension.

Cold-weather crops can be planted about four weeks before the last killing frost in the spring, according to CSU Extension. That is generally the first week of April for Grand Junction and Palisade and the last week of April in Fruita (the west end of the valley is colder).

Hardy vegetables including lettuce, radishes, spinach, turnips and broccoli are ready to plant now.

Carrots, potatoes, Swiss chard and beets can grow easily with daytime temperatures in the 50s, but won’t tolerate a really cold frost as well, and are considered semi-hardy vegetables by CSU Extension.

These can be planted in the next two weeks or so, give or take. Remember that lettuce will mature pretty fast, and so will radishes, which take about a month, so you can put them in your garden where you plan on planting heat-loving varieties later.

For the most part, these are easy-to-grow crops. But carrots can be challenging to germinate, just like the other members of the carrot family, including parsnips and parsley (yes, the herb!) that have hard seed coatings.

The difficult part is that they require consistently moist soil (not wet, though) for up to two weeks or more before they sprout. When it is dry or windy, that makes it hard to keep those conditions constant.

However, there are some tricks to foster success. The first thing you can do is to over-seed the area where you intend to have the carrots grow, knowing that your rate of germination will probably be a little bit disappointing.

This can lead to more thinning later, but meh, it’s not a big deal. Plus, the seeds are so tiny that you’re not likely to be that precise with placement anyway.

The second thing you can do is cover the seeded area lightly with straw or grass clippings, a very thin mulch to help retain moisture and keep conditions more constant.

Another trick is to pre-sprout the seeds before placing them in the garden soil. This takes attention, but for those of you impatient gardeners who like precision, it can be worth it. Using a gel medium helps the seeds have constant contact with moisture and sprout faster. While you can purchase commercial formulas, you can also make your own seed-germinating gel medium using two cheap ingredients: cornstarch and water.

Mix a cup of water with a tablespoon of cornstarch and whisk them together in a saucepan on the stove. Heat on medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (it doesn’t take long). Then pour the mixture into a shallow, flat-bottomed container and let it cool so it will firm up. Your medium is ready for seeds to be sprinkled on top. Cover the setup with some plastic wrap and keep it on the counter, and within days, sprouts will emerge.

As soon as you see the sprouts, make sure to plant them outside, no more than 1/2-inch deep. Don’t let them grow long, or they will break off when you transfer them outside. If you use a melon-baller to scoop each sprouted seed from the medium with some of the gel, it’s easier than trying to pick each one out (and you can avoid breaking the sprouts with your fingers).

It’s OK to plant the seed with some gel. Cover lightly with soil and a seedling will emerge sooner than if you had just planted the seed outside.

Once you have success with cold-weather crops, you’ll never turn back to waiting to plant tomatoes and squash. A few greens early in the season and the promise of home-grown carrots will give you plenty of inspiration for the rest of your gardening season.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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