Early colonists found fertile, sandy loam soils and an amazing 230-day growing season on the “Middle Peninsula” along the James River in Virginia. Today’s Virginia gardeners often insist that their growing seasons are “just right.” Piedmont and mountain gardeners have growing seasons of approximately 180 and 165 days respectively. Determine all vegetable planting times by counting back or forward from frost dates and checking soil temperature.
The last average frost date on the coastal plain of Virginia is around the middle of April. Early crops, including asparagus, collards, onions, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips may be planted in mid-February. Most will be ready to start harvesting from mid-April through May. Some vegetables that are planted as seedlings in all areas include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and Chinese cabbage; the first three should not be set out until after the last frost in April, but the latter three can be grown in cold frames beginning in mid-March. Summer vegetables should be planted by mid-May. Plant second crops of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, collards and turnips from mid-July through mid-August for winter harvests. Lettuce, cucumbers and determinate tomatoes can go in every few weeks. Refer to a table like the Alabama Extension’s for soil temperatures; crops like lettuce, parsnips and onions will germinate in soil that has only warmed slightly, but summer vegetables need soil that has warmed to between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Piedmont vegetable gardeners must wait until the last 10 days of April for their last frost, so early crops should go in the first week in March. Later early crops, like Brussels sprouts seedlings, wax beans, carrots, chard, lettuce, mustard, potatoes and bok choy, can start between March 23 and the end of April. Plant muskmelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers eggplants, summer squash, tomato seedlings and sweet potatoes in early April. Keep planting bush, pole and lima beans and salad vegetables all summer long for a steady supply until October frosts. Rutabagas must be planted in the fall--late September to early October in the Piedmont area. Turnips, onions and collards can also be planted for winter harvest. Complete data for planting times, spacing and handy charts for gardeners to figure planting times for their individual garden plots are available from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Mountain gardeners have widely varying frost dates, based on where they live in the Blue Ridge, Allegheny, Balsam or Appalachian uplands--or the valleys between them. Most mountain gardens can count on a last frost between May 10 and 15. Early crops start in late March and later early vegetables should start in early April. Plant sweet corn, as in other areas, just before the last frost. The Virginia Cooperative Extension suggests cool-season crops like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts and heavy mulching for fall-planted crops that will be left in the garden to mature.