As March 16th came and passed under snow cover, I thought of an old garden adage about planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Gardeners, after a long winter of tending houseplants, itch to get an early start, and there is nothing as good as fresh peas from the garden, but not here in a northern garden. As disappointed as I was, I don’t shovel snow off my garden before planting, preferring to wait until the ground is clear. There are ways to allow you to start gardening earlier.

If this is your first garden, think about where you want to locate it. Placing your garden on a south-facing slope helps warm the soil faster. It will catch more sun and allow you to plant a few days sooner. That is if you don’t get another eight inches of snow, but even then, chances are some seeds will sprout as soon as the snow melts. Raised beds make sense, too. They also warm up faster, and if you have clay soils, drain better, permitting earlier planting. Another trick is to plant in a cold frame, just keep the snow swept off the top so the sun can enter.

Many vegetable seeds germinate even if planted in cold soil. Technically, that means soil at 40 degrees. If you don’t take your soil’s temperature, that’s about when the soil is easily tilled. Don’t disturb the ground if big clods of soil form while you work, the soil is too wet. Let it dry out a little.

Cold season vegetables grow better in the cool air and weaker sun of spring and fall. Luckily, these are some of the fastest growing vegetables, and best salad ingredients the home gardener grows. Vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale and Swiss chard can be planted as early as the snow melts. Other lesser-known leaf vegetables like corn salad (lamb’s lettuce), broccoli raab, and some chicories also do all right planted in cold soil. This is not the optimal temperature for seed germination, but sow heavily and enough seeds will germinate to make the effort worthwhile.

Other vegetable seeds that germinate in cold soil include many root crops and members of the cabbage family. You can plant cabbage, cauliflower, beet, turnip, rutabaga, radish, onion, shallot, leek and carrot seeds at the end this month or early April. Most of these vegetables are types that do better planted directly into the ground anyway, but I have seen seedling plants of some at nurseries.

Most of the rest of the vegetable seeds you might want to grow need warm soil. Save them for planting in May or start them indoors four to six weeks before you intend to plant them outdoors. It is easy and fun. If you don’t want the fuss, most of them can be bought as well-grown plants at nurseries and garden centers all over town. Even in May we can get late frosts, so be prepared to keep these plants protected. You can use row covers, or cloches for individual plants.

And don’t forget the peas go in the ground as soon as possible.

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