I know it’s only mid-January, but I’m already thinking about my garden! And believe it or not, it’s not too early to begin purchasing seed and starting seedlings for those early, cold weather crops. Personally, I love cold weather crops. In our region, you can often begin planting as early as mid-March and have a mature crop by mid-to-late April. After a long cold winter of canned or store-bought veggies, nothing tastes as amazing as those first harvests of leafy greens or radishes.
Cold season gardening DOES have it’s own set of rules though. Unlike warm season gardening, when you can plunk any variety of corn or tomato into the ground and get an easy harvest, cold season gardening needs just a little more legwork.
Here are a few steps to get you started on a cold season garden!
- Know your zone. One of your first steps, before you even begin to buy seeds, is to figure out your zone. There are certain varieties of crops that will thrive anywhere…but you have to know which variety is suited to your particular region! You can ask around or go to this USDA zone map to establish your zone. When you shop seed catalogs, you’ll be able to confidently purchase seed that will thrive in your area instead of guessing and hoping!
- Know your frost dates. The frost dates are approximate dates of the first and last killing frosts in your area. My goal, when I plant cold season crops each year, is to plant a variety that can mature and be pulled up before the spring frost date. That allows for successive plantings from March through October and an overall larger harvest. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a great online calculator to help you determine your frost date.
- Know your crops. Root crops and leafy greens are perfect for most any cold weather garden. Radishes, green onions, loose leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach and broccoli all thrive in the cooler temperatures and some, kale for instance, taste sweeter after a light frost.
- Know your planting requirements. While all the aforementioned crops thrive in cool temperatures, they may have different planting requirements. Beets, radishes and loose leaf lettuce can be direct-sown straight into the cool, plowed earth and sprout in just days. Crops such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower need to be started indoors several weeks in advance in order to thrive. A basic heating mat will give your seedlings the jumpstart they need to move out to the garden in early spring.
- Know when to pull them. This is a hard step for me! I hate to pull up beautiful thriving plants….but….as the days grow longer and the temperatures warmer, those lovely plants are going to turn bitter and tough quick. The crop may look gorgeous and healthy, but will lose its flavor and go to seed mighty quickly. Be ruthless. Leave a few plants to collect the seed and compost the remnants.
Not sure what to plant?
Here are some great hardy/semi-hardy plants that will survive in cold/cool weather:
- Brussels sprouts
- English peas
- Mustard greens
- Chinese cabbage
- Irish potatoes
- Lettuce and gourmet salad greens
- Swiss chard
If you’ve never planted a cool season garden, let me encourage you to try one. As a rule, the plants are easy to grow, weeding is typically minimal, there are few (to no!) bugs and you won’t be out there sweating your heiney off like you will in July and August! Win! If you HAVE tried your hand at cool season crops, what are your perennial favorites?