Massachusetts' diverse geography and four USDA growing zones present more opportunities than challenges when cultivating vegetables. Cape Cod and nearby islands in the Atlantic Ocean are characterized by warmer weather, slightly lengthening the growing season there, while cool-weather crops grow well in northern inland regions. Knowing your zone’s predicted frost dates is essential for growing vegetables. Start with varieties that have a proven track record of good harvests and branch out from those in subsequent seasons.
Peppers come in a variety of sizes and colors, but all are warm season crops that require at least three growing months of frost-free weather. Buy seedlings from reputable nurseries and plant after the danger of frost has passed--around April 20 in New Bedford and May 26 in Greenfield. Young plants grow best if the temperature is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and no cooler than 65 degree Fahrenheit at night. Gradually acclimate them to outside conditions, then plant when the soil is at least 60 degree Fahrenheit. Keep the plants moderately watered and mulch around their bases to help retain moisture.
Leaf lettuce is a cool-season vegetable that grows best in cool temperatures found in the spring and fall throughout Massachusetts. Choose green or red leaf varieties that are disease resistant and heat tolerant. Plant them anytime in the spring when the soil is dry enough to rake, or in late summer after the hottest days have passed. Provide frequent, light watering and use organic mulch to protect the shallow roots and help retain moisture.
Beets are cool season vegetables that mature within 55 to 70 days and whose roots and greens are eaten. Beets grow best when daytime temperatures are between 60 and 65 degrees. Plant seeds in loose, well-drained soil and thin seedlings so that 3 to 4 inches exist between plants. Adequate water and mulching will aid growth. Harvest the beets at any time during their growing cycle. Greens that are six inches tall are most flavorful, while roots are best picked when they are between 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter.
Plant tomato seedlings in full sun after all danger of frost has passed. Sink seedlings deeper into the soil than if they were growing in containers, making the soil level just below the first leaf set since more roots will grow further up tomato stems. Place stakes or cages beside or over plants right after planting and mulch around the bases of plants. Soak the soil around the plants 6 to 7 inches deep each week and fertilize when the plants begin to set fruit.