Grow More Food with Cool Season Crops

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Pea seedlings on a sunny day.
Pea seedlings on a sunny day.

Cool Season Crops for Increased Food Production

If you start the gardening season around your average last frost date, and hang up the trowel with the first frost in autumn, you’re missing out on a whole host of healthy veggies. Cool season crops can be started under lights inside and planted out into a cold frame or low tunnel for the earliest veggies of your growing season. Plant again in fall for production well past your first frost. Some plants will even tolerate several hard frosts, extending your season further.

Lettuce
Lettuce thrives in cool weather.

Spring Tips…

Start seedlings indoors about two months before the average date of the last frost in your area. Harden off (move outside in good weather for longer periods each day) when they at least have their first set of true leaves (and weather allows). Plant into a cold frame or growing tunnel for protection from frost. With a cold frame, you may be able to start seedlings even earlier. Be sure to protect young seedlings from frost.

 

January Homesteading Chores - The New Homesteader's Almanac
A simple cold frame will allow you to extend your season for a month or more each growing season.

Autumn Tips…

In autumn you can extend the growing season by planting cool season crops 6 to 8 weeks before the date of your average first frost. Late season veggies may be harvested well past first frost with protection such as a low tunnel. Some crops, such as kale (‘Vates’, ‘Dwarf Scotch’ and ‘Winterbor’)  and Brussels sprouts, will tolerate several hard frosts. Snap off frozen leaves and use in soups, stews, and stir fries. Many cool season crops are sweeter after a frost.

 

Broccoli
Broccoli can be set out a month before your average last frost in spring. Be ready to cover it if frost threatens.

What Are Cool Season Crops?

Cool season crops are plants that can handle colder temperatures than many garden vegetables. Their growth slows during cold weather, but may begin again if the weather warms up.These plants tend to bolt, or flower and set seed, when weather heats up. So, to get the most from them, they should be used as spring and fall crops.

Easy Storage Tip:

Many of the root crops can be overwintered in the garden with a thick mulch of dry leaves or straw to be harvested as you need them. If the ground freezes solid in your area, try stacking bales of straw over your rows for best results.

Grow More Food with Cool Season Crops - The New Homesteader's Almanac
Cabbages may be started indoors under lights, then transplanted to the garden fairly early in the spring. These ones are ready to harvest before the peppers and eggplants even set fruit!

Best Cool Season Crops for the Home Gardener

Here are some of the best vegetables (and some flowers) for extending your gardening season into cool weather:
  • lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • musclun mixes
  • mache
  • endive
  • raddichio
  • bok choi
  • mustard greens
  • Chinese cabbage
  • collards
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • potatoes
  • peas
  • radishes
  • carrots
  • beets
  • parsnips
  • turnips
  • rutabagas
  • salsify
  • chives
  • leeks
  • onions
  • green onions
  • shallots
  • horseradish
  • oregano
  • sage
  • sorrel
  • rhubarb
  • asparagus
  • kohrabi
  • garlic
  • pansies
  • calendula

 

Rhubarb
Rhubarb can be forced to produce early shoots by covering with a deep straw mulch.

 

Growing Tips…

Some of these vegetables will need more protection than others. Be careful not to leave a cold frame closed on warm sunny days, or you may cook your little plants. Open cold frames and water seedlings regularly. If particularly cold weather moves in, cover your plants with straw and row covers to prevent freezing.

In warmer zones, you may have trouble growing some of these cool season vegetables. They like it cool, and hot days may cause them to flower and go to seed. Cool season perennials, such as rhubarb, need a certain number of chilling hours each winter and will not survive in the warmest zones. For more gardening information specific to your area, check with your local county extension office.

 

What is your favorite cool season crop? What zone do you live in and do you have any tips for growing cool season crops in your area?

 

 

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