Even though the weather may not feel “garden-ready” several varieties of vegetables can be started now, or very soon. In general, seed packets provide information about when and where to plant, but rather than scouring the seed racks at your local market to determine what to grow, turn to your local experts.
Kansas is fortunate to have a wealth of knowledge at the universities who have created myriad resources online. From Kansas State University you can find the Kansas Garden Guide that serves as a textbook for gardening. From issues with diseases and pests to guidance on planting and harvest dates, this resource should be in every Kansas gardener’s toolbox.
Plants that are hardy to the cold are candidates for starting by seed in March. Leafy greens, often grouped under the category of “lettuce” can be sowed directly into the garden beginning in the middle of March. With a preference for cooler temperatures, leafy greens are best suited as spring and fall crops. Seeds can be started indoors and transplanted into the garden in April. Since the risk of frost remains, however, transplants should be hardened off to avoid damage or death. Some of the varieties that are included in this category are kale, spinach, kohlrabi, endive, spinach among many other leafy greens.
Asparagus is different from most of the vegetables commonly grown in the garden because it is grown as a perennial. New crowns can be planted during the early spring, but the first harvest should not take place until the second year of growth. Once the plants become established, they can produce spears for many years to come.
Cauliflower and broccoli typically fare best by starting by seed indoors at this time of year and transplanting into the garden in April. Cauliflower is not as hardy as broccoli making the timing of seeding and transplanting important. Both crops require plenty of time in the ground to allow the head to fully develop prior to harvest, but also before the summer heat hinders growth.
Cabbage transplants should be put in the ground from late March through early April for the spring garden. They are not tolerant of the summer heat in Kansas so if you miss this window you should wait until July to plant seed directly in the garden for the fall harvest.
Root vegetables such as turnips, rutabaga, radishes, parsnips, beets and carrots can handle some frost exposure and can therefore be direct seeded in loose soil from mid to late April. Transplanting is not ideal for these crops due to the risk of damaging the edible root.
Potatoes are often thought to be root vegetables but are actually modified stems called tubers. Potato seeds are actually cut portions of the tuber. These seeds can be planted in the garden in mid-March.
Onions sets, or bulbs, should be started in March to give them sufficient time to grow. Alternatively, seeds can be planted in April directly in the ground, though sets are a preferred method.
Peas are best for the spring garden and can be direct seeded in March. Warm soil is not favorable for peas so getting them in the ground early is key to a successful harvest.
Recognizing these frost hardy vegetables are typically not heat tolerant, time is of the essence. The growing season is upon us and our reward for the planning done during winter is about to pay off. Happy gardening!
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.