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When to plant spring crops

Soil thermometer Every winter is a little different, so I use a soil thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature of the soil and plant accordingly.  The thermometer pictured here is actually a meat thermometer, bought for less than $10, but it works just as well as the more expensive soil thermometers you'll find in gardening stores.

To check the soil temperature, get up early before the sun has hit the ground and insert the thermometer into the ground.  Wait a few minutes, then take a reading.  If you have garden areas that are more sunny than others, you'll want to test the soil temperature at several places–I usually find that our soil is two to five degrees colder in the shade of our hillside compared to in the sunnier parts of the garden.

The table below lists the germination temperatures for common spring crops.


Vegetable
Minimum temp. (degrees F)
Optimum temp. (degrees F)
Beets
40
50-85
Broccoli
40
45-85
Brussels sprouts
40
45-85
Cabbage
40
45-95
Carrots
40
45-85
Cauliflower
40
45-85
Collards
45
70-75
Leeks
40
70-75
Lettuce
35
40-80
Onions
35
50-95
Parsley
40
50-85
Peas
40
40-75
Potatoes
45
60-70
Radishes
40
45-90
Spinach
35
45-75
Swiss chard
40
50-85
Turnips
40
60-105

In most cases, you can get away with planting once the soil has reached the minimum germination temperature, but don't plant your seeds if a cold spell is going to set in within a couple of days.  You should also be aware that some vegetables will give you spotty germination until the ground was warmed up closer to the optimum temperature --- you might want to double your seeding rate to ensure a good stand if planting near the minimum.  Once a seed has sprouted, it's less sensitive to cold soil, so expediting germination by soaking your seeds overnight before planting can also help.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackTo plant earlier than cold soil will allow, many gardeners are tempted to start seedlings indoors.  However, unless you have grow lights or a heated greenhouse, I recommend that beginners stick to growing their plants entirely in the earth for the first year.  A quick hoop might be enough to let you plant a couple of weeks earlier than you otherwise could have, then you can transfer the same protection to a new bed in April to jumpstart your summer garden.

This week's lunchtime series is excerpted from Weekend Homesteader: March.  I saved some of my favorite projects for last, so I hope you'll splurge 99 cents to read about growing edible mushrooms, composting, and attracting native pollinators.  And, of course, the ebook has the full spring planting chapter in case you just can't wait to read each installment at noon this week.

This post is part of our Spring Planting lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Hi, have you done any tests in the soil under your quickhoops? I'd imagine they should be a few degrees warmer?
Comment by Marco Fri Feb 24 15:36:36 2012
You're completely right --- I use quick hoops as one of my methods of preheating soil for the spring garden. The hoops tend to raise the soil temperature by a couple of degrees at this time of year.
Comment by anna Fri Feb 24 16:25:14 2012

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