Tag Archives: peas

Grow a (Fast) Spring Salad Garden: The Quick Guide

Spring is the perfect time to start a “Salad Garden.” Start harvesting fast with our quick guide to cool-weather-loving, fast-growing salad crops for the spring garden.

buttercrunch lettuce

LETTUCE. In the summer and fall, starting lettuce seeds can be a struggle because the soil temperature is too high, but in early spring the seeds start readily, long before the soil has warmed enough for other crops. If summer heat comes on fast and early in your garden, you’ll want to choose heat-tolerant varieties, like sweet Jericho romaine, long-holding Cosmo romaine, the old-standard Oakleaf looseleaf, or the buttery butterheads Capitan and Buttercrunch (pictured). You can also choose fast-growing early varieties (any of the crisphead varieties, including favorites Loma and Sierra). If you still have a good window of cool-weather, there are several varieties with excellent flavor and texture that only grow well with cool spring weather: the heirloom Black-Seeded Simpson is highly recommended for early spring.

OTHER GREENS. Try these excellent spring salad greens in your lettuce mix, or leave out the lettuce altogether. Arugula, spinach, endive, highly nutritious cress (including the southern traditional creasy greens) and fast-growing, mild mustard greens like tatsoi and mizuna are all excellent choices for spring-growing.

danvers 126 carrots

CARROTS. Many carrot varieties have their best flavor in the spring. Even soil moisture makes spring the easiest season to grow high-quality, crack-free carrots. Blocky Danvers 126 (pictured), Scarlet Nantes, and the heirloom Chantenay Red Core are all forgiving of different soil types, although it’s still important to loosen your soil to a good depth. Carrot seed is slow to germinate, so be patient, sow very shallowly (a quarter inch down or simply rake and water in the seeds), and keep the soil moist but not damp until the seedlings emerge. Sow every 1-2 weeks and harvest on the small side for the most tender carrots for salads.

RADISHES. Choose fast-growing spring radishes and harvest small for the best flavor and texture. Sow small successions frequently (every 1-2 weeks) for the highest quality roots. Try Cherry Belle for classic red roots or Easter Egg for pretty mixed colors.

P5260001-1lutz-beets-cropped
BEETS. Beets can take 2 weeks to germinate and they shouldn’t be transplanted, so sowing in the spring when the soil is cool and moist is your best bet for good germination and high-quality roots. Lutz Green Leaf (pictured) is an unusual heirloom that can be sown in the spring and harvested at any size, without becoming woody. Soak the seeds overnight, tamp them down well, and expect to thin the seedlings (each “seed” is a multi-seeded dried berry). For quick harvests, try fast-growing Early Wonder Tall Top (the tops make good salad greens when young) or rose-hued Chioggia.

PEAS. A classic early spring crop, snap peas are at their sweetest when eaten raw (and they’re also great for getting kids to eat raw vegetables). I prefer growing dwarf plants like Cascadia or Sugar Ann. They only need minimal support/trellising, and the fast growing plants tend to outpace any pest damage.

HERBS. For flavorful herbs to add to salads or salad dressings, sow cilantro, bunching onions (green onions), and parsley.

Summer Sowings: Continuous Harvests all Summer and into Fall

With summer’s intense heat in full swing, it can be hard to remember to sow cool season crops, but some fall crops need to be started as early as June, and many need to be started in July.

On our farm in central Virginia our average first fall frost falls in late October, but even where frosts come later or not at all you should start fall crops during the summer. Later plantings will struggle with fall’s low light levels, and won’t produce before growth slows to a near standstill in early winter (the “Persephone Days,” November 21-January 21).

To make sense of all the seeds we’re sowing during the summer months, I divide our summer plantings into three types:

1. Warm-season, slow growing summer successions: these are the bonus crops that many gardeners forget. A second round of tomatoes, summer squash, sweet corn, or cucumbers can keep you harvesting all summer long without interruption.

2. Fast growing summer successions: these crops require frequent, regular sowing all through summer. Because we’re sowing so often, these can be easier to remember. We sow beans, carrots, salad greens, beets, and radish seeds weekly. Be ready to baby your summer sowings: we water daily to keep them from drying out before sprouting. Lettuce needs the soil temperature to be below 80 degrees F, so you may need to sow in flats indoors, or even in the refrigerator, or sow in the evening and cool the soil with crushed ice.

3. Cool season, slow growing crops for fall harvest. We sow the Brassicas first: Brussels sprouts in June, and then broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in July. By mid-July we’re sowing fall greens: collards, Swiss chard, leaf beet, and kale, plus winter radishes. We sow Chinese cabbage in late July. Sow thickly in nursery beds and keep up with your watering; we protect these young plants from summer’s insects with spun polyester row cover or the new more durable and temperature neutral “proteknet.”

For further resources on planning your summer sowings, check out: Brett Grohsgal’s article Simple Winter Gardening, our article on Summer Succession Plantings, and our Fall and Winter Planting Guide.

Successions can be overwhelming, so we have some tricks that help extend harvests with fewer plantings:

1. Plant indeterminate varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers, and pole-type beans and peas. We still find we need a late tomato planting, because our earliest plantings taper down toward the end of summer (and our Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello needs lots of tomatoes for the Tasting Tent).

2. Select heirlooms bred to provide extended harvests: many modern farms want concentrated harvests that can be harvested with one or two passes; but for more traditional growers an extended harvest was the ideal way to manage the bounty. Look for roots that hold well in the ground. Lutz beets are one of our favorites: they can be spring planted and will hold all summer without turning woody. However, they will be very large, so this only works if you’re happy cooking with multi-pound beets (try slicing cross-wise for beet burgers). Open-pollinated broccoli provides extended side-shoot harvests. Choose bolt-resistant greens and harvest by the leaf before before taking whole plants.

3. Choose seasonally appropriate salad greens: we want salads all year-round, but this can be tricky both when it’s hot and when it’s cold! Mustards and brassicas are more mild in cold weather, so get adventurous by adding young kale and tatsoi to winter and early spring salads. Choose cold-tolerant lettuce: red varieties tend to hold up better in frost. For hot weather, choose fast-growing summer crisphead lettuce like Sierra, or heat-ready greens like Red Malabar spinach or Golden purslane.

4. Set up a root cellar or similar storage system. Ultimately, some of your crops will ripen all at once, or you’ll be faced with a glut of produce when frosts threaten. Be prepared: have a proper storage area ready to go for your carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbages, winter squash, and more. Be ready to finish ripening the last fresh tomatoes indoors. For fresh produce through till spring, we need good systems for storing and slowly working through the harvest. Nancy Bubel’s Root Cellaring is an invaluable resource if you’re looking to improve your winter storage system, and has lots of low-cost and little-time options, if you haven’t blocked off your whole summer to dig a cellar.

Pre-Sprouting Seeds: Sow with Confidence

pre-sprouting seeds with an overnight soak

Watch them grow! These Wando English (Shelling) Pea seeds change dramatically with just an overnight soaking, the first step in pre-sprouting. (Wando is a favorite variety for excellent production in hot weather.)

the final product, sprouted peas
The final product! These are VERY ready to sow — don’t let the rootlets get any longer! I kept them moist after soaking by laying a damp cloth over them.

Pre-sprouting your seeds is the ideal technique for the anxious gardener, because it lets you see how well your seeds are germinating before you sow. If your seeds are old or haven’t been stored properly, you can pre-sprout them to make sure they’re still viable.

We only recommend pre-sprouting for large seeds, like beans, peas, spinach, and corn. Smaller seeds become difficult to handle when wet.

You don’t have to go all the way to sprouts: soak your seeds for at least 4 hours, but not more than 12 hours, to get much of the benefit of pre-sprouting, but without the hassle.

To pre-sprout the seeds, drain them after soaking and keep them evenly moist until the tiny first rootlets just barely emerge. We keep our seeds moist by rinsing them at least twice a day and covering with a damp cloth.

Watch your seeds very carefully! You should sow them as soon as the tiny rootlets emerge: they should only be about a quarter inch long. Wait just one or two days longer and you’ll have long, easily-damaged roots and stems.

If the timing isn’t quite right (your garden isn’t ready for sowing, the weather is too wet, or you’re just busy) you can delay sprouting by keeping the seeds in the refrigerator.

On our farm in central Virginia, pre-sprouting is an important technique in the early spring and late summer. Our spring and fall cool seasons are quite short, so we like to give these crops the best possible start and get them started as soon as we can.