By Will Sulahian and Wendy Lam
As spring kicks off, so does the growing season! PHS encourages you to get outside and try your hand at growing your own food. In addition to growing for yourself, why not plant some extras? Sharing your fresh harvest with family and neighbors is a wonderful way to reconnect after a long winter indoors. Fresh greens and veggies for your salads and side dishes will take your meals to the next level in taste and nutritional value. Here are some tips to get you started!
Now is the time to start growing cool season crops like lettuce, spinach, radishes, and mustard greens, as well as others that love crisp temperatures. The Philadelphia area is in the United States Department of Agriculture Zone 7, with the last frost usually in April. Many cool weather crops will grow from direct-sown seeds, so there is no need to start them indoors and transplant them. You can get them planted outside as soon as the soil is workable.
Get started with these beginner-friendly choices:
Lettuce should be seeded directly if the ground can be worked or started indoors if frosts are still occurring. It needs plenty of sunlight but can also grow in partial shade if necessary. Lettuce should be watered frequently but not every day.
Spinach can be direct-sown or transplanted from seedlings. This thirsty plant requires lots of water, so spread your watering efforts throughout the week. It can be planted in full sunlight but thrives in 4 to 6 hours of sunlight or partial shade.
If you can, start your radishes directly outdoors, in full sun or partial shade. Make sure the soil stays moist for optimal growing.
Mustard greens can be transplanted as seedlings or grown directly outside and require around 2 inches of water a week. These plants prefer full sun but will also grow in partial shade.
Once plants are outside, they quickly become vulnerable to several environmental factors. To combat this, Adam Hill, Associate Director of Community Gardens at PHS, recommends using row covers. “Row covers can be placed directly on top of plants or in hoops around them. These covers protect the plants from pests and colder weather, as they can increase the temperature by four to six degrees.” Row cover can be found at Home Depot as well as local nurseries. Some cool season crops can be harvested multiple times as they mature, typically once a week, giving you plenty of produce that you can use yourself or share with the community. Once the end of June arrives, the plants should be completely pulled out of the ground or garden beds due to the heat.
Gardeners who want to get started can learn how through PHS’s many classes and workshops. From building raised beds, to composting, you’ll find best practices for keeping your plants happy and healthy. Whether you are growing for yourself or sharing with friends, family, and food pantries. Not only do you benefit from fresh, healthy produce, you’ll be helping PHS garden for the greater good!
Create access to fresh food through at-home food gardening. Learn how PHS is promoting this practice through our Community Gardens program.