Making plans for our spring vegetable garden

One of the many things Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle inspired me to do was start a cool weather vegetable garden. At the time I read the book Oliver and I were already maintaining a successful summer garden but we had not yet considered trying our luck in the spring and fall. So last September we gave a fall garden a go; our success was mixed.  Half way through the experiment I realized I planted some things too late. Even so the kale and a few lettuces survived through the winter; they just never grew large enough to warrant picking and eating. Now, with spring around the corner, we have our 2nd shot at getting the cool weather vegetable garden right. To increase our odds I've spent the morning researching Atlanta's hardiness zone and what to plant. This is what I've learned:

  • Arugula - sow seeds directly into the ground 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost. Full sun.
  • Cabbage* - transplant seedlings into the garden 3-5 weeks after the last frost date. Needs fertile soil rich in organic matter.
  • Peas - sow seeds directly into the ground 4 to 6 weeks before last frost. Repeat in 14 day intervals to maximize harvestable crops.
  • Kale - sow seeds directly into the ground 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost.
  • Spinach* - transplant seedlings into the garden 4 weeks before the last frost.
  • Leeks - sow seeds directly into the ground 4 weeks before the last frost.
*I found contradicting sow times for both cabbage and spinach. One website said to plant seedlings 4 weeks before the last frost. Another website said to plant them after the threat of frost has passed. I don't what to do...

The key element for all of this is the mysterious last frost date. That date can be found by locating the "hardiness zone" for your area - which depending on where you live may not be as easy as it sounds. Atlanta, for instance seems, to be in a 50 year tug-of-war about it's designation. (It's an interesting history, read more about it here.) The basic conflict is whether Atlanta is zone 7 or 8 (meaning our last frost date is either mid March/early April or late April. Judging from my own experience as a born and raised Atlantan I've decided to go with zone 8, late March. That is based on the very memorable blizzard of 1993 which occurred March 13th (I remember because I was at my best friend's birthday slumber party and we got snowed in for days). 

Starting with mid to late March, and counting back 4 to 6 weeks, means we should start planting later this month. I'm debating ordering seeds online versus picking them up a nursery. In general I don't feel too confident when growing from seeds. I definitely prefer seedlings as we have the most success with them. But it doesn't hurt to try so we'll give it a go. Until then, we'll be preparing the soil and trying to find a space in the yard with better wintertime direct sunlight.

If any of the experienced Atlanta gardeners out there have advice to offer we would appreciate it! We saw some amazing gardens while on the urban chicken coop tour so we know it can done. Thanks and good luck to all the other newbies!