For more information check out my article How to Start Seedlings Indoors
Starting Your Cool Season Veggies Indoors
If you live in a more northern climate, like me, you are probably just starting to think about getting your garden cleaned up and ready for spring. Warm weather crops, like tomatoes and peppers will need to be started inside in a couple of weeks for my zone. But cool season crops can be started now and planted out much earlier than the rest of the garden.
Cool season crops can handle light frosts once they’re hardened off, but heavy frosts will generally do them in, so be prepared to cover these tender little transplants if really cold nights are threatening. Crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, kale, mustard, and bok choy can be started indoors early and planted out in the garden when the night time temps are expected to stay above 40 F. Most of these will also do well planted right out in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. If you don’t have a long cool spring, broccoli and cauliflower will do best as started seedlings. Don’t forget to harden off your little plants. Just because they like cool weather doesn’t mean they will do well moving from your warm house into the garden with no acclimation.
Direct Seeding in the Garden
There are also quite a few vegetables that can be direct seeded into your garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. These crops include carrots, beets, Kohlrabi, parsnips, salsify (aka vegetable oyster), peas, lettuce, spinach, turnip, radishes, and kale. I tend to direct seed my kale and lettuce rather than starting them indoors because they grow so quickly as the soil warms up. Starting these crops early allows a quick harvest in late spring or early summer. Then you can clean out the bed and use the space for peppers, tomatoes, or eggplants.
In areas that really heat up in the summer, you may want to skip the spring planting of turnips and rutabagas unless you plant early and harvest young. These root crops tend to get woody and tough as soon as the summer days heat up.
Winter Sowing and Extending the Season
If you’re organized and get your garden beds cleaned up in the fall, you can winter sow many of these cool season crops. Prepare your beds and plant the seeds as you normally would late in the fall after everything else has been harvested. The seeds know when it’s time to wake up in the spring and rarely will you have a cold snap hard enough to kill those early crops. I often plant my greens out in the fall to get off to an early start. Kale, lettuce, spinach, and arugula make a wonderful salad and grow well together in a protected bed. I have kept greens going up to Christmas time and started them a month early in cold frames contrived from bales of straw and old windows. The perfect spot for a cold frame is in a sunny, high spot in your yard. Frost settles in low areas, so aim high when choosing a location.
With some careful planning, you can extend your harvests of cool season crops and enjoy these healthy veggies when few things are ready to eat from the garden. For those striving for self sufficiency, learning to grow these crops in the ‘tween seasons will put food on the table and give you a good excuse to go play in the dirt a little bit longer each year.
Do you garden 3 seasons out of the year? What are you favorite cool season crops?