When it comes to gardening, starting early means you're the first on the block to serve homegrown goodness at the dinner table. Try these techniques at season's end, too, and you could be the last. Cloche call. Cloches protect plants from the elements. Glass cloches aren't vented; move them daily to keep plants from sizzling in the midday sun. Eliminate this daily chore by employing cloches with vents, such as milk jugs or any vented hot cap that allows heated air to escape. To use a milk jug, cut off the bottom, remove the lid, and place the top of the container over your plant. Use cloches until after the last spring frost and again when frost threatens in fall.
Under cover. Floating row covers work on much the same principle as cloches but are a better choice for whole beds of crops such as salad greens. At season's end, the insulation from a row cover can extend the harvest of larger plants such as zucchini and tomatoes. Old sheets supported by metal hoops also make good covers. Many synthetic row covers are light enough to drape directly over the crop. Synthetic-fabric row covers may also be left on all season to give insect protection to such pest magnets as eggplant and cabbage.
Bed warmers. Soil's insulating properties make for slow gardening in spring. Plant in raised beds, where the soil warms faster because the beds are above the main soil surface, even if only by a few inches. For gardens that aren't raised, warm the soil before you plant by covering the area with sheets of clear or black plastic or dark landscape fabric.
Peas, please. One of the easiest ways to garden early is to grow plants that do best in cool weather. Plant these annual crops as soon as the ground can be worked, 20-40 days before the last frost in spring. Use transplants for best results. A second crop of shorter-season varieties planted in late summer will thrive in the cool weather of autumn. A few vegetables, such as cabbage and leeks, taste even better after the crop has been nipped by a light frost.