Our continued warm winter has warmed the fire of vegetable gardeners. I noticed several recently tilled garden spots this past weekend in preparation for planting. It is time to start seeds or transplants of many cool-season vegetables. Our office traffic has picked up early, with large numbers of soil samples arriving.

Each year, many new people try their hand at vegetable gardens and current gardeners extend their range of crops and volume of production. Clemson University’s Home and Garden website, clemson.edu/extension/hgic, is busy with gardeners printing off HGIC Bulletin 1256, Planning a Garden, to double-check planting times and other information on their favorite vegetables.

Early-season crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach and some lettuces are often available as transplants that are ready to go into the ground. It is easy to start small with a four- or six-pack of transplants. Beets, carrots, mustard, snow peas, radish, turnips, and many lettuce and spinach seed varieties can be sown from seed in late February and March. Many seed packs are locally available, but always purchase fresh seeds packaged for 2017.

Getting soil ready for planting early crops can be difficult when temperatures are cold and the soil is wet. Avoid working soil when it is wet. Make sure you can properly prepare an area before planting new seeds or transplants.

Planting many vegetables in containers can fill in the planting gaps caused by wet soil conditions, cold soil temperatures and space limitations for vegetable gardens. Many leftover patio containers from last year’s flowers can be used for spring veggie plantings.

Many of the cool-season crops mentioned above can be cultivated in larger pots this time of year. These can be covered or moved into a garage or protected area to avoid short, hard freezes that are still possible over the next month or more.

When starting new vegetable seeds in used containers, first empty them of old soil mix and clean them before using them. This used mix can be spread over garden areas before it is tilled for planting. Fill containers with new soil mix and firm it by shaking the mix down slightly and watering it several times to allow the mix to hydrate.

For early plantings, don’t fill to the very top of the container -- leave 2-3 inches of open space below the edge. A sheet or other cover can then be used to protect germinating seedlings when late frost is predicted until they harden off to spring weather conditions.

Spinach and the many, many varieties of lettuces are well suited to container growing and can be harvested regularly as needed for the freshest-tasting greens for several months during springtime. Both can often be purchased as transplants and planted four to eight per container or sown thickly on the container surface and covered with ¼ inch of soil.

4H chicken project

If your child loves chickens, sign them up for the Greenwood-Saluda 4-H Pullet Project, which is designed for youth who were ages 5-19 as of Jan. 1. Youth get a choice of a large flock (30 chicks) or a small flock (15 chicks).

Cost is $10 for non-4H members and free to those who sign up with 4H. Chicks will be available in early April. Youth will show their chickens at the Saluda Livestock show Sept. 14.

For information or to sign up, contact 4-H agent Lucy Charping at 864-223-3264, 864-993-5317 or lucyw@clemson.edu. Register youth at the Greenwood County or Saluda County Clemson Extension office.

James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.