Living here in the upper Midwest we all know it’s a bit risky getting out in our gardens too soon and trying to use sheer willpower to ward off the possibility of a late frost. The ground is still too damp for many vegetables to be planted, but there are a handful of hearty performers that can go in the garden, even before the last frost date has passed. One of the benefits that these early starters have is that there are fewer insects and disease pests around in early spring, so your vegetables should get off to a good start.

The cool, wet weather of Spring is the perfect time to grow lettuce, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. You may need to take precautionary steps to protect your lettuce as it gets started, but, oh, it never tastes better than when it’s grown in the crisp spring air. Anyone who has ever had a bowl of tender leafy lettuce picked minutes ago that is drizzled in a homemade dressing of bacon bits, sugar, vinegar, and water knows that this is the nirvana of fresh garden delights. You will get the earliest and longest harvest from the cut-and-come-again varieties. Lettuce may require a little frost protection in spring, but it won’t bolt, and you will probably have time for 2-3 crops.

In addition to dying the Chicago River green on March 17th, there’s another tradition of planting the first peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Peas don’t like freezing temperatures, but they dislike heat worse. So, if you love fresh picked-from-the-garden peas, don’t miss the window of opportunity. Get out there and plant a crop of your favorites, whether its shelling peas, snow peas, or sugar snap peas.

Spinach must be grown in cool weather too, or it will quickly bolt to seed.  Spinach grows extremely quickly so you don’t have to wait long to enjoy it, but you’ll also have to keep planting new spinach to extend the harvest. Getting spinach to grow is easy. Keeping your spinach growing takes some extra care, but it’s worth it. Another thing good about planting the spinach early is that it will grow in the shade of crops that will be taking off just as your spinach fades.