Most vegetable gardeners assume their window for growing vegetables is between the last frost in the spring and the first frost in the fall. But gardening enthusiasts grow vegetables year-round. Check with your local county extension office to choose plants that grow well in your area and USDA hardiness zone.
Plant cool-season seeds such as lettuce, broccoli, onions and kale indoors six weeks before the last frost. Fill seed-starter trays with sterile seed-starting mix. Poke a hole in the soil in each cell with a chopstick about 1/8 inch deep and add a seed. Cover the holes with a fine layer of starting mix.
Spray the starting mix with a fine mist spray bottle containing water until the soil is evenly moist. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the tray. Set the tray in a warm place, such as on a radiator or on top of the refrigerator. Check the soil every other day and water to keep it moist, but not soggy.
Remove the plastic wrap when plants start to emerge. Place the seed tray in a sunny window or under a fluorescent light. Keep the light 12 inches above the plants to prevent burning them.
Early Spring Gardening
Plant the cool-season crops previously started three weeks before the last expected frost. Dig small holes in your vegetable garden and carefully remove the plants you've started from their cells. The plants should stand about 4 inches tall and have two or three leaves. Carefully set the plants in their holes, backfill the holes with soil and pat down gently. Water to keep the soil evenly moist as needed.
Plant cool-season crops from seed six weeks before the last expected frost if you didn't start them indoors. Dig a furrow 1/4 inch deep in the soil and place seeds in the soil. Consult seed packets for exact depth and space. Generally, cool-season seeds are small and are planted 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep and 2 inches apart. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and water to keep them moist.
Start warm-season seeds–such as tomato, pepper, eggplant and melon–six weeks before the last expected frost as previously directed.
Harvest cool-season crops–such as peas, lettuce and spinach–as they prefer cool weather and will turn bitter or bolt to seed when warm weather appears.
Plant warm-season plants started indoors (as previously directed) when temperatures are predictably above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant warm-season crops, such as corn, beans, melons and pumpkins from seed if you didn't start them indoors. Warm-season seeds are generally larger than cool-season seeds. Plant them 1/2 to 1 inch deep, based on seed packet recommendations, and 4 inches apart. Plant slow-maturing crops such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant from nursery purchased plants.
Plant lettuce, broccoli, kale and spinach in late summer for a fall crop.
Harvest beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant from July to September in temperate climates.
Fall and Winter Gardening
Harvest indeterminate tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and melon until the first frost.
Harvest hardy greens, such as spinach and kale until the first hard frost.
Remove all garden debris and compost or discard in the trash. Lay a 2-inch layer of manure on the garden.
About this Author
Julie Christensen has been writing for five years. Her work has appeared in "The Friend" and "Western New York Parent" magazines. Her guide for teachers, "Helping Young Children Cope with Grief" will be published this spring. Christensen studied early childhood education at Ricks College and recently returned to school to complete a degree in communications/English.