By Susan Simons
Did you know that you can plant spinach seed in October and begin eating spinach leaves in late March? Now that’s an early season vegetable! Just keep the seed moist in the fall until it sprouts, then cover with straw.
Then just as you begin to pick spinach leaves for your salads in March, sow another few rows and mulch. Use fresh seed each year and keep the seed moist, not soggy. For best growth, thin the plants to four inches apart. Harvest leaves when they are still shiny and when the plant has at least six leaves. When the weather gets hot, the spinach will go to seed and you can pull or cut the entire plant.
Leaf lettuce and mesclun mixes can also be sown about six weeks before the last frost, using cool-season or winter mixes. I have had best luck with oak leaf lettuces. Lettuce and spinach grow well together and need similar treatment though lettuce needs more moisture. Pick lettuce and spinach leaves in the morning for best flavor. Wash and whirl them (or dry them) and refrigerate in an airtight container.
Snow peas and snap peas also like cold weather and yield delicious, crisp sweet pods. Early shell peas, as well as snow and snap, can be planted in March. This year I have planted fava beans and snow peas. Peas do well near lettuce and spinach but don’t thrive if planted near onions or garlic. Keep the soil moist for germination and increase water after blooming. Once you have pods, harvest daily and eat them right away for the best flavor. Peas and beans add nitrogen to the soil and benefit heavy feeder crops like squash or cabbage.
No early season salad would be complete without scallions and radishes. I usually plant onion sets for the earliest harvest. You can buy yellow, red, or white onion sets right now. They are immature bulbs that go one to two inches deep and four inches apart. Or you can plant seed now for a later crop. If you haven’t eaten your onions by the time the tops fall over, bend and tie the tops so the plant won’t go to seed and the bulb will continue to develop underground for a fall harvest. Radishes mature quickly. Pull as soon as the roots mature. If they go to seed, harvest and eat the seed pods.
These cold-hardy salad crops will be more or less done by June, freeing up garden space, so it is possible to leave room and interplant crops which like warmer soil such as carrots, beans, cucumbers, or peppers. Lettuce is a heavy feeder crop that takes a lot of nutrients from the soil, so add compost or organic fertilizers before planting the next crop, and don′t plant beans near onions. The vegetables above are my favorites. If you have had good luck with these or others, please email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.