For those who have little patience for Mother Nature to turn the hands of time to planting time there are some things you can do to get started early on your vegetable garden. You will not be able to grow tomato and other warm season vegetables early but you will most certainly be able to get a head start on those cool season crops.
The first order of business is to find out the last frost date in your area this information is available at your local cooperative extension office. There is no exact dates but rather an average date based on historical records. I would take the earliest date and then shoot for planting two to three weeks before that. So when starting seed for outdoor plantings the time to count back would be either two or three weeks earlier than if you were going to plant on the earliest last frost date. Of course this is not without it’s risks. There is always the possibility of late season storms and freezing temperatures that last for several days but if the gamble pays off you will be eaten fresh homegrown earlier than most in your area.
There are some things you will need to do in order to insure success with early spring planting. You will need to build either cold frames or low tunnels to help protect the plants from the cold and to capture as much solar heat in those early Spring days as you can. Cold frames can be placed out in the garden and the your cold season crops can be sown right into them. In order to help the crops you should place the cold frames out in the garden a week or so before you plan to plant, after they have set out for a few days the heat from the sun will have helped to warm the soil.
Another method that can be used is short tunnels. A short tunnel is a mini green house of sorts that you can place in the garden to get an early start on planting. The basic premise is that you will place hoops out in the garden that are spaced about two to four feet apart then draped with clear plastic to mimic a mini green house. These hoops are either metal that is bent to form the hoop or they can be made out of PVC pipe and attached at the top by a long pipe holding each hoop apart this is called a purlin. You also will need to anchor the bottom of the hoops to the soil to prevent them from tipping over. After the frame is in place you will drape a sheet of plastic over it and the use bricks or sandbags to hold the plastic down to the soil.
The only things you need to be cautious about is heat build up and drying out. The heat in a short tunnel or cold frame on a sunny day can reach 100 degrees or more. So if you are using one of these you will either need to crack the lid open a little on the cold frame or lift one end of the tunnels plastic a little to let some of the heat build up out. The other rhing is to watch for soil moisture do not let it dry out to much or your vegetables will wilt and die.