It’s about time to get ready for the spring planting season. Let’s start by thinking about your garden in three different sections: a fallow section, an early spring section, and a late season section.
When considering early spring crops, choose those that will tolerate cold temperatures — peas, for example. Old-timers said plant them by March 17th to produce good peas. That’s not entirely true, as we have raised good peas that were planted later; however, some plants really thrive in colder temperatures. A little bit of snow isn’t going to kill them either, so you don't need to panic if you get snow after you planted.
Other than peas, early spring crops include radishes, beets, carrots, and even some turnip and lettuce varieties. Greens, in particular, have a crisper, fuller body, and more brilliant colors early and late in the growing season so they can all be included in your spring planting.
As soon as the ground gets to a point where temperatures consistently get up to around 50 degrees, plant some of the rye in the first third and let it get established. Rye, available online or at any tractor supply store, is particularly good at capturing energy from the sun and depositing it into the soil. If you look at the plant as an antenna, it accepts that energy through the leaves and sends it out through the roots, making it available to the plant. Clover, wheat, or vetch can be substituted for rye if preferred.
So, at this point, you have one-third sitting fallow with the rye; one-third for your early spring crops that’ll tolerate the cold; and one-third left open to plant after the frost-free date in your region. In our growing zone, it’s May 15th; but you can check any online gardening site to find this information.
Now you need to think about what you’re going to plant for a mid-season harvest. You can start your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from seeds to get them established, or buy your plants in early May and plant them on or after your frost-free date.
By this point, you may even be harvesting from your early spring plot, which you potentially planted as early as March. After these crops are done producing, plant rye in that section to rebuild nutrients, and till under the rye from your fallow section for the next planting.
Around the 15th of August or first of September, it’s time to plant the late-season crops. You could repeat the peas, radishes, beets, carrots, or turnips if you like, or try another variety — just remember, only consider plants that tolerate the cold.
As you can see, it’s important to lay out the plan for the entire season and think about timing before your shovel ever hits the dirt. Part of the plant includes rotating crops and sections throughout the season to ensure that each plot has a chance to rest. Being prepared makes for happy gardening.
I find being amongst nature and seeing the magic that happens in the garden to be incredibly peaceful and therapeutic. In as many years as we’ve been farmers, we continue to be amazed to see a seed come up out of the ground and transform with the energy from the sun and rain.
It is pure pleasure to nurture and care for the seed as it grows into a plant and turns into a vegetable. Doing this naturally, in turn, nourishes you in a healthful, holistic manner, thus completing the circle from producer to consumer. Well, America, get out there and enjoy your gardens. Happy gardening, and remember to eat your veggies!
Farmer Lee Jones is the co-owner of The Chef's Garden in Huron, Ohio, a family-owned farm that practices sustainable farming of specialty vegetables for some of the country's most heralded kitchens. He was the first farmer ever to judge Food Network's "Iron Chef America."