As soon as the dirt is loose enough to work, about six weeks before you expect a final frost in your Appalachian garden, you can get your garden started by planting early, hearty green vegetables. Beans, peas, shallots and spinach are just some of the veggies you can plant early.
And when you plant these hearty vegetables, keep in mind an old Appalachian mantra that will assure you of a healthy crop come early spring. After all, the weather likely still is going to be wet and unpredictable, and the critters are hungry in the winter too. So remember to plant:
One for the mouse
One for the crow
One to rot
And one to grow
The Best Varieties
Broad Beans: Pale, dwarf varieties are much heartier than those with green seeds. Sow bean seeds about 1½ inches deep, 9 inches apart, in two rows that are closer to 24 inches wide. Put two seeds in each hole and more at the ends to provide shelter.
Shallots: Shallots need to be planted in the winter because they take about 26 weeks to mature. Round shallots are heartier than the long, thin types. Plant shallots about 7 to 9 inches apart because as they grow, the bulbs tend to splay out, producing five to nine clusters. Stick them in the dirt so they are half in and half out.
Peas: Plant plenty of seeds if you want to pick peas in short order, usually 7 to 10 days. Use a sifter to zig-zag lots of seeds across a shallow trench that’s about 12 inches wide. Cover the topsoil with twigs and nets to keep out critters.
Onions: Submerge onions in soil so only the tips are showing. Onions grow well in soil that’s been well-composted with each plant spaced about 6 inches apart. Like shallots, they are not planted deep and do not compete well with weeds. Invest in an onion hoe to dig up weeds as they appear.
Spinach: Sow your spinach at least six weeks before the last frost in nitrogen-rich soil that’s been loosened at least 12-inches down. Place the seeds about a half-inch deep and close to 2 inches apart in rows. Water often, even twice a day, to keep the soil cool. As the weather warms, germination rates fall to about 50 percent.
This is just a short list of potential cold-weather crops ideal for planting in February. Other hearty crops that can be set before the final freeze include radishes, arugula, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, turnips and collards. Visit your extension center website for a full list of hearty plants for your region. The hills of West Virginia, for example, sit in a different planting zone than the northern mountains of Georgia. A few tips for all Southern Appalachian gardeners, however, include:
- Don’t forget to water. Even though it’s cold, the ground still can dry out.
- Cover plants with leaves or newspaper if you get a really hard freeze that lasts for days.
- Plant in areas that get the most sunlight.