Spring officially starts on March 20th, and with the warmer weather comes the opportunity to start tending to your vegetable garden. Early spring is an especially good time to start planting frost-resistant vegetables, as well as those that need a long growing season.
Speaking of frost, you’ll want to know when it ends in your neck of the woods, since that date will determine when you start planting. For example, spring cabbage goes in the ground about four weeks before the last frost, though the timeframe may be different depending on what you’re planting. To find out when the frost will end in your area, first look up your USDA Hardiness Zone via this handy map, then refer to this chart to determine your first and last frost dates. For reference, in Austin, Texas (Zone 7), the final frost occurs on April 15th, while in northern Alaska (Zone 1) it doesn’t come until mid-June.
One last item of business: Before you get to shoveling, use a soil test kit to make sure your ground has the optimal pH level for planting. (Most vegetables do best in soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.) You can buy a soil test kit online or at your local gardening store—trust us, it’s worth the extra time and money to make sure your vegetables will grow optimally.
Now, to the fun part: picking what to plant. Here are some of the best vegetables to plant in early spring, along with some of our favorite recipes to make with each!
You can get started with your spinach crop as early as six weeks before the last frost—depending on when your soil can be easily worked, that is.
Recipe: You can’t go wrong with garlic sautéed spinach. We like this recipe from Ina Garten.
Start setting out kale plants three to five weeks before the last frost. And be prepared to wait; kale planted in spring may not reach its optimal size until the soil gets warmer. It’s ready to harvest when its leaves are about the size of a hand.
Recipe: How about a nice chickpea and kale salad for your next picnic?
Luckily, you can get started planting this salad staple rather early. It’s recommended to set out lettuce plants about a month before the last frost, since it can tolerate shade and cooler weather.
Recipe: Venture beyond the salad by making lettuce wraps with spicy chicken.
Start planting cabbage about four weeks before the last frost. When the cabbage heads feel firm, go ahead and harvest.
Recipe: This cabbage soup is great when you have a cold, or for the last few chilly spring nights.
You’ll want to start sowing carrot seeds about three weeks before the last frost and then every two to three weeks after that. You can remove them whenever they’ve reached your desired size.
Recipe: Baked carrot fries with thyme and garlic powder make for a perfect snack.
Like carrots, radishes are great root vegetables for early-season planting. Start growing them four to six weeks before the last frost. Depending on the variety, radishes can be ready to harvest in as little as three weeks.
Recipe: A salad with radishes and snap peas is crisp, healthy and yummy.
Start sowing seeds four to six weeks before the last frost. You can start picking pods a few weeks after a pea plant blossoms. You’ll know a pod is ready when it’s fat and the peas inside feel large.
Recipe: Snow peas work well in stir fries, including this one with spicy tofu.