Roots and Shoots: Plant a Garden, Now or Later

Seed packets

Two rounds of seed planting ready to go. (Photos by P. Doan)

Happy vernal equinox! My last column was nine weeks ago, when the outdoors looked and felt much different. In it, I laid out resolutions for my own gardening plans this year. As an update, I have a few varieties of seeds started for the garden and hope to direct-sow the early starters — lettuces, fava beans, radishes and peas — during an upcoming weekend. Once the soil is warm enough to work (meaning unfrozen enough to cover a seed) early spring vegetables can be planted. 

With the right timing, they are ready to harvest by early summer, just as the temperatures are getting too hot for their liking. This makes space in the garden for another round of vegetables or herbs to go in, too. 

Succession planting always gives you something ready to harvest and optimizes every inch of soil during every day of the growing season. When you get into planting vegetables as early and as late as possible, the growing season can potentially last from March through November or December, depending on the weather, without any special equipment. Row covers, a hoop tunnel, cloches or a cold frame would all enhance those conditions with a greenhouse-like effect. 

Seed packets list the number of days until harvest. By counting backward from May 15 or Oct. 15, the first and last frost dates, you can tell if there is enough time to get a harvest before the end of the season. 

Seed box

My seed filing system repurposes a holiday box that is perfectly seed packet size. The dividers keep seeds organized by when to sow indoors or outdoors.

Here is an example of succession planting. Fava beans will be sown directly into garden on March 21. They need 75 days to mature so I’ll be able to start picking them around mid-June. Fava beans are climbers, and, to save time, I will plant runner beans in the same spot to avoid redoing the trellis. 

I planted the runner bean variety I chose, Kelvedon Marvel, last year and it was prolific. If I plant in late June or even early July, I will have 60 days to maturity, bringing me to early September when I can start eating. I can wait another two to three weeks if I want dried beans. 

In my microclimate — an east-facing, higher-elevation slope with southern exposure — the temperatures will drop sooner. Even though frost doesn’t typically happen sooner, the lowering angle of the sun combined with cooler temperatures means I need to plan my garden to wrap up sooner than if I were closer to the river and at a lower elevation. Or I need to use season-extending equipment to keep the soil warm. 

Not ready to prepare the garden now? If you can’t start until summer, here are some choices to still grow your own food: Beets (45 days), lettuce (35 days, on average), scallions (35 days), kale (60 days), carrots (70 days) and other greens can all be planted for a fall harvest. 

The seeds of vegetables that survive the frost, such as kale, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, pumpkins and winter squash, can also be sown directly in the garden for a late fall or winter harvest. 

The good news is that even though it’s spring and it seems like the pressure is on to plant now, maybe you’re a fall or winter gardener. Take your time. It’s a blessing, not a chore. 

My garden plan gets both more elaborate and organized each year — two characteristics that inevitably become a bit overwhelming at the peak of the season. I should take my own advice! Fresh vegetables, herbs and berries are too delicious to deny my time and energy. I’d like to think I get better at growing since each garden is a learning experience, but there are so many factors I can’t control, weather being foremost. 

Of interest to gardeners

Orders are due by Wednesday (March 24) for seedling trees and perennials in the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual plant sale. See putnamcountyny.com.

Orders are due by Thursday (March 25) for herb and vegetable starts in the annual plant sale at Stony Kill Farms. See stonykill.org

The Native Plant Center sale ends March 31. See nativeplantcentershop.org. 

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