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Early Season Vegetables

By A. J. Bailey, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

Does the thought of fresh salads sitting cool and crisp on the table this spring tempt you?

You can plant any number of vegetables early in the season to broaden the variety that your family will enjoy, while also saving money at the market.

Known as cool season crops, this group of vegetables makes steady growth at temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees. They are planted in March and April and will do quite well if the soil is loosened through proper preparation.

Colorado's clay soils benefit from organic matter so spade compost or sheep and peat into your soil and mix thoroughly.

If spring rains fail you, keep the soil moderately moist for best results. Constant moisture is especially crucial to germinate seeds, establish young seedlings and keep green leafy vegetables from turning bitter.

You'll be eating peas in May from any of the growing number of snow or shell peas that you plant now. Support them with a trellis or plant in companion rows that will support each other.

For beautiful salads try Swiss chard (a spinach substitute), kale or the bright red-veined rhubarb chard. All can be planted now. For variety, plant mustard greens, parsley, spinach or the more challenging celery. Beets for greens or roots can be planted early but soak the seeds overnight to hasten germination.

In our area, leaf lettuces are the most common salad greens grown. Countless varieties are available that can be harvested any time during growth up to maturity at about six weeks. Plant rows of different varieties at intervals to ensure a continuous supply. Spinach planted now as a border for the garden will mature before summer heat eliminates it. In late summer you can plant it again for a fall crop.

Freshly harvested chives, leeks and green onions add zip to cooking. Start from seed or sets (small plants) available at garden centers.

The race for the first vegetable to reach harvestable size is nearly always won by radishes. Try not only the familiar round red types but also the long white varieties. Vary serving them as a garnish and sliced raw with sautéing in butter or stir frying with other vegetables. Ditto for the snow peas mentioned earlier.

More exotic vegetables such as Italian radicchio and Japanese mizuna will really wow your guests and add mealtime variety not easily obtained from your market. All these cool season vegetables are easier to grow in Colorado's changeable weather than their warm season counterparts. What are you waiting for? Plant now!

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010