Grow More Food with Cool-Season Crops

Grow more food with cool season crops

Cool-Season Crops for Increased Food Production

Cool-season crops allow you to extend your growing season and produce more vegetables. 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 freezes, extending your season further.

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spring greens

Spring Tips for Cool-Season Crops…

Start seedlings indoors about two months before the average date of the last frost in your area. Harden off after their first set of true leaves have grown and the weather is warming up. Plant seedlings into a cold frame 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 with a cold frame or with a floating row cover. Open cold frame on warm sunny days to prevent burning tender leaves.

Autumn Tips for Cool-Season Crops…

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 the 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 freezes. Snap off frozen leaves and use in soups, stews, and stirfries. Many cool-season crops are sweeter after a frost.

How to Sow Fall Crops for an Extended Season

broccoli is a healthy cool-season crop
Mmmm, broccoli!

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 the 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.

Cabbage is a great cool-season crop for the home garden

Best Cold Crops for Home Gardens

Here are some of the best vegetables (and some flowers) for extending your gardening season into cool weather:

  • Lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Mesclun
  • Mache
  • Endive
  • Radicchio
  • Bok choy
  • Mustard greens
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprout
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Carrot
  • Beet
  • Parsnip
  • Turnip
  • Rutabaga
  • Salsify
  • Chives
  • Leeks
  • Green onion
  • Shallots
  • Kohlrabi
Mary's Heirloom Seeds
Swiss Chard
Swiss chard can handle several touches of frost late in the season.

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…

Try growing cool-season crops over the winter for year-round food production! Choose varieties that can handle a variety of temperatures. They will deal with sudden warm spells better.

For more gardening information specific to your area, check with your local county extension office.

What is your favorite cool-season crop? Leave a comment!

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