The Earliest Spring Garden

by Meredith Bossert

Mother Nature, Irma Wolf (Evergreen Garden Club), Betty Jo Page (Front Range Organic Gardeners & the local unit of the Herb Society of America), and Meredith Bossert (FROG & EGC) all plant certain seeds in the autumn for early spring germination.  Each of us uses different methods, so experiment and keep notes.  As for Mother Nature, observe, observe, observe. We all agree that we are not seeking a copyright. This information is for all who are interested in extending their growing season.

Meredith’s Mountain Methods (7650 feet altitude, Zone 4)

I plant the seeds in late fall after frost, when the ground is cool but not frozen—October or November, depending on the weather.  Lettuce, parsley, spinach, chard, corn salad, and tah tsai do well.  Often this is my most successful crop of the year. I found that peas, carrots and onion family seeds do not germinate this way. Of course, this is not for warm weather crops.

I compost and work the garden bed; 6-10 square feet is adequate for my needs. I place my rows roughly 6” apart. If you do not harvest regularly in the spring, this is too close. I alternate a row of smaller plants (like tah tsai, spinach, & corn salad) with a row of larger plants (like large lettuce & chard) to reduce crowding. Tah tsai and spinach are the first to go to seed. So, when they are removed, they give the lettuce more room to grow.

I cover the seeds with compost, but do not water--Mother Nature does that. Put labels in the bed and/or make a map so you know what is where next spring. I cover them with floating row cover that allows air and water to penetrate, laying it flat on the ground. (Next year I will experiment with Irma’s method of using pine needles.) Because of all the critters who believe my garden is just for them, I cover the bed with chicken or rabbit wire.

In late February or March, when I start peeking under the cloth to see if germination as started. As soon as I see some green, I start watering when the bed is dry. The plants need more headroom as they grow. Wire hoops or other supports over the bed help. I fill plastic bottles with water, put their lids on, and set them around in the bed wherever I can find room. These act as solar collectors to moderate the temperature inside. Then I cover the whole bed with floating row covers (medium weight).

If you have critters, the row cover must be covered securely with chicken or rabbit wire. My deer have learned that good things are under there. They have figured out how to dislodge the coverings and enjoy fresh spring greens. Check often to make sure your covers are secure. A portable cold frame set over the bed is sturdier and harder for animals to get into. I still use plastic bottles of water as solar collectors. Make sure there is ventilation for these cool-loving plants on sunny days.

Check your plants often. Water as needed. Eat the thinnings. Gradually increase their exposure to the elements by uncovering them during the day when the weather is appropriate. In the mountains this lettuce will go to seed in late May or early June. So, plant more in early April.