Did you know that there are ‘cool vegetables’? They are veggies that appreciate and thrive in cool-to-cold weather just like Cool Flowers. You can apply the same growing concepts found in my book about growing cool-season flowers to these cool-season veggies.
- Lettuce *
- Spinach *
- Kale *
- Beets *
- Turnips *
- Carrots *
(Those marked with the asterisk * even winter over to harvest during winter in my Zone 7 garden under low tunnel hoops and lightweight row cover.)
When to Plant?
This group of veggies tends to thrive in the cool crisp days of fall, early winter and in early spring. Mid-summer, fall and very early spring are the times to plant seeds and / or transplants.
When to plant depends on how long it takes the plant to mature to a harvestable size. As example, broccoli should be started from seed 12-14 weeks before your first frost in fall to allow it to mature before winter conditions start. While leaf lettuce only needs 4 weeks to reach a harvestable size. Seed packets or plant tags should provide this information. Our Vegetable Planter Guide also provides this information for 22 vegetables by way of a sliding guide adjusted to your frost dates. It tells when to start seed, when to plant, and when to expect the harvest.
I find growing a fall salad garden is easy, quick, and is a great way to get started with ‘cool vegetables’. Leaf lettuce, spinach, and radishes can all have their seeds planted directly in the garden and will sprout quickly in the warm days and cool nights of fall. Watering the bed everyday during sprouting will speed up the getting started process.
I grow both leaf lettuce and head lettuce– however leaf lettuce is the quickest and most productive. Once the leaves are 3 inches or so, start harvesting. Just like flowers, the more you cut, the more will come. Holding the tops of the leaves, cut the entire plant at just above ground level with a sod cutter or clipper makes for easy harvesting. I do my best to keep the leaves clean during harvest which makes washing easier. The plants will regrow fairly quickly when happy.
My little lettuce patch is only 3 feet long with 4 rows of lettuce and it produces a ton. I harvest one row a week so the rows are all in different stages of regrowth. Spinach can be treated much the same although not as quick at regrowth but it does regrow.
Radishes are quick growers too. Plant a few seeds each week up until 3-4 weeks before first frost. Pull from the garden what you need for a weekly harvest and radishes tend to hold well in the refrigerator.
Cool-season vegetables suffer from the same affliction as cool-season flowers: because of their awkward planting times most gardeners just skip over them. Once on the calendar to plant at the proper time they just may become some of your favorites homegrown vegetables!
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.TheGardenersWorkshop.com .
Pre-order Lisa’s new book Vegetables Love Flowers now!