Food you can grow outside in March
Spring is here which means temperatures are warming up and daylight hours are getting longer faster than any other time of the year. It's tough for gardeners to sit on their hands and patiently wait until late April or early May.
Fortunately, there are a few tasty plants that will survive a few spring frosts and grow their best before the summer heat arrives.
Snow Peas love the cold. It's no surprise - snow is in the name! These plants are easy to grow from seed because the seeds are quite large. Drop the seeds in a glass of water for 24 hours and when the outer coating starts to open up, they are ready to be planted in a pot. It's best to grow snow peas indoors at first if nighttime temperatures regularly drop below freezing. Under ideal conditions, plants will flower about 4 to 6 weeks after the seeds are sown. These plants do their best when afternoon temperatures are between 50 and 70 degrees. Make sure to provide a trellis for these vines. They grow just as well in planters as they do in the ground.
Snow peas (Credit: Alex Calamia)
Snow Peas are also known as Sugar Snap Peas, which is another appropriate name because their pods are sweet and tasty raw off the vine, or cooked up in a stir fry. The pods should be picked when young for the best flavor and texture. Toward the end of spring, leave a few pods on the vines to dry, and then collect the seeds. These plants can be grown again in late summer for a fall crop, or the seeds can be stored in a dry and cool spot indoors until next summer.
Snow peas flowers (Credit: Alex Calamia)
Lettuce is another really hardy plant. These sprout easily from seed, but the seeds are very tiny. It's best to start these in pots so the seeds don't get lost among leaf litter. Arugula grows very similarly to lettuce. Leafy greens may wilt during a hard freeze so a frost cover is a great investment for an occasionally bitter cold spring mornings.
Lettuce can be picked leaf-by-leaf to preserve the plant, or cut the stem for one big harvest. Planting new seeds every 3 weeks will ensure a constant crop of lettuce! When lettuce plants start to get tall, a bloom is on the way. When that happens, the leaves get very bitter, so it's better to pick lettuce when it's young. Lettuce will bloom before it reaches it's full potential during warmer weather. Fortunately, there are some summer lettuce varieties that can handle more heat, but lettuce isn't reliable during unusually hot summers.
5-week old lettuce (Credit: Alex Calamia)
Did you know that cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and even brussels sprouts are all different forms of the same plant? The botanical name is Brassica oleracea. Today's variety of Brassica oleracea is the result of hundreds of years of careful breeding. Brassicas are short lived plants that prefer cooler weather.
Broccoli and Cauliflower will not form properly shaped heads in summer heat, so those do their best when seedlings are planted in late March or sometime in April. Kale will usually survive through the summer, but is less productive during the summer months, and may die to the ground and re-sprout in the autumn.