Minnesota's geographic location ensures that the earliest outdoor gardening of the growing season must actually take place a little later in the spring than southern regions. But the same wide array of tasty vegetables can still be cultivated. Many plant varieties can be started indoors and transplanted outside once the weather becomes warm enough, and several cool-season varieties can be directly sowed into soil, giving Minnesota gardeners the ability to have a long growing season if they choose.
The University of Minnesota Extension suggests that gardeners start growing seeds, particularly those of plants that take the longest to grow, indoors. Warm-season crops in particular, such as tomatoes and beans, typically take longer to produce fruit than cool-season vegetables, and they die from frost exposure, precipitating indoor seed-sowing in Minnesota to give them the best head start. The state usually isn't frost-free until mid to late May.
The University of Minnesota Extension cautions against prepping a plot when the soil is too wet or too dry. If soil sticks to shoes and shovels, wait until it dries out more and becomes crumbly. Till or spade the plot and then rake the soil to prepare seed beds. Mark rows where vegetables will grow with a taught string.
Cool-season crops, such as lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower can be sowed directly into the soil when the garden plot is ready. Use the corner of an angle iron or aluminum to create furrows with consistent depths rather than using hoe handles or shovels, the Extension advises.
The state usually isn't frost-free until mid to late May, but that doesn't mean gardeners must wait until then to start digging. A few vegetables that can be direct sown the earliest in Minnesota include celery from Feb. 15 to March 1, and onion transplants from Feb. 1 through 15. Raised beds allow the soil to warm more quickly and give gardeners a jump on spring planting.
The University of Minnesota Extension lists suggested vegetable varieties that have proven, via test trials, to grow well in the state. Some of those include Munchkin broccoli with 28 days to maturity, Masterline Brussels sprouts that are mature at 75 days, Perpetual Swiss chard that can be picked in 60 days and Oakleaf Lettuce that is ready in 45 days. Visit www.extension.umn.edu for a full list of suggested varieties and planting dates.