Thoughts from the Cottage…
Cool season vegetables are those that can thrive during the shorter days and cooler temperatures of spring and fall. Some vegetables such as kohlrabi and kale actually develop better flavor when nipped by frost. Lettuce, collards, snow peas, cabbage and broccoli are a few examples of cool season vegetables.
Many cool season vegetables can be started from seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the frost free date in your area. Some transplants can be put out a few weeks before the frost free date as well.
Before you start sowing seeds and planting it's important to know what the last frost date is in your area. This will determine when your spring growing season begins. There are several on-line sites where you can find this information using your zip code or by checking frost dates of near-by cities. These are average dates that may differ slightly year to year but they give you a basic window of time in which you can create a planting schedule. Another good source of local, reliable advice is your area's County Cooperative Extension Service or check with knowledgeable members of local gardening clubs.
I don't want to mislead you, even though many of these vegetables are regarded as cold tolerant, they can all be wiped out by a sudden, severe drop in temperature. It's important to be prepared with something to drape over the crops if an overnight cold snap is expected. Simply cover your crops with newspaper, old sheets or frost blankets. Just remember to remove the covering the next morning.
Just what do you plant? Here is a list of common cool season vegetables with a few tips to help you produce a bountiful spring garden.
Arugula – Sow seeds in the garden as soon as soil can be worked in spring. They will germinate in about 7 days and are ready to harvest in 3 to 4 weeks. For a continuous harvest, sow seeds every 2 weeks until temperatures heat up.
Broccoli – Seed can be sown directly in the garden 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area or set out transplants 2 weeks before the last frost date. The ideal day time temperature 65 and 80 degrees. Feed the plants 3 weeks after transplanting . Use a low nitrogen fertilizer.
Lettuce – Sow seed any time in spring when the soil is workable. workable.Lettuce is more sensitive to cold than other cool season vegetables and should definitely be covered during cold snaps. Fertilize with fish emulsion. Lettuce will grow in partial shade and appreciates the shelter from intense late spring sun.
English Peas – Direct sow in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. They will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. Seedlings will survive a late snow and short periods of temperatures down to 25 degrees .
Kale – You can plant kale in early spring, about 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost date. Cover with frost blankets during severe cold. Similar to collards very fertile soil is ideal to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves.
Radish – Sow radish seeds in the garden about 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. No feeding necessary, but soil should be fertile and well drained. They are quick to mature so check them regularly. They are ready to harvest as soon as they are of edible size.
Spinach – Seeds can be sown over frozen ground to germinate as the soil thaws. Transplants can be set out 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Fertilize when the plants are about 4 inches tall. Spinach prefers very fertile soil to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves. Once the days get long and warm it will bolt and becomes bitter tasting.
Beets – Sow seeds in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Beets prefer a sandy soil. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers as this will encourage top growth at the expense of root development. As with all root crops good soil aeration is key to uniform, robust development. Consistent moisture is also important.