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Thursday, December 1, 2011

KNOL: Cool Weather Vegetable Gardening

This entry is a copy from a KNOL I wrote found at Google. Google will be discontinuing the KNOL's platform and I am in the process of storing them on my blog. Please enjoy the article. I have about 50 coming over to this blog.

There are plenty of vegetables that grow best in cool weather. The best time to start planting these crops in Maryland is March. This Knol provides basic information about cool weather vegetables. Radishes, peas, beets, greens, cabbages and many more vegetables like the cool weather.  It is time to start planting.

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Why do some vegetables grow best in cool weather?

The best answer is the simplest answer. When it gets warmer the plants move from leaf or vegetable production to reproducing. Radishes get woody. Greens get bitter. Broccoli flowers. They do this to typically create seed heads or seed pods. The cool weather is the time for them to grow and mature. The warm weather is time for them to bolt and produce seeds.

What are the cool weather months in Maryland?

There are two cool weather season: Spring and Fall. The Spring cool weather season is roughly the beginning of March through the end of May. The Fall cool weather season is the last week of August through the the end of November. If you use a cold frame you can start the season earlier in the Spring or prolong it in the Fall. This Knol focuses on planting directly into your garden without using a cold frame. Cold frames will be a featured in a future Knol.

What are some of the cool weather crops to plant?

  1. Radishes, Radishes and more Radishes.
  2. Lettuces of every type and don't forget your Spinach.
  3. Kale and Collards.
  4. Beets, Parsnips and Turnips.
  5. Kohlrabi a German vegetable.
  6. Peas with edible pods and non-edible pods.
  7. Swiss Chard for the taste and beautiful colors.
  8. Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbages.
  9. Finally Carrots.
There are more cool weather crops but this is enough to get you started. Some of these plants are best planted directly from seed and some are best planted as transplants.  You can purchase transplants from your local nursery or garden center. You can also grow them indoors from seeds but that is another Knol.  In the case of lettuces, I plant both seeds and transplants. The goal of this Knol is to get garden produce to your table as soon as possible. March is the time to plant. You don't have to wait for tomato weather to start planting your garden.

Shouldn't I worry about frost?

Yes and no. All of the vegetables can handle frost as seeds. Most of them can handle frost as seedlings. Many of them can handle light frost as plants. Some plants can actually freeze. Some of them taste better with a light frost. I have kale, spinach and onions that made it through the entire freeze of Winter. As we go through how to plant each vegetable, I will talk about frost and freezing. The real risk is consecutive days of all day freezing temperatures. Even a little snow won't matter. We are looking for 35+ degree night and 45+ degree days as the starting signal to plant.

Preparing your garden

I clear out old plants and refuse. I turn the soil over and break up clumps to about a depth of 12 inches. I do not fertilize at this point. The best thing to do is to clean up your garden and turn the soil over on a day when it isn't too muddy or too frozen. That's pretty much all you need to do to get started for the Spring.

Planting Radishes

Radishes need loose soil to about a depth of 10-12 inches. They can be planted once the soil can be worked. Most radish types mature within 25 to 30 days. Radishes should be planted as seeds and there are dozens of radish seed types at your local garden centers. I recommend buying several varieties.
Plant your radishes in rows at a length of your choice. Plant them about 1/2 inch deep. You should cover them with fine soil. Just make sure the soil isn't too clumpy. The seed packets will have directions if you want exact details. I plant each seed 1/2 inch a part across the entire length of the row. I space my rows 6 inches apart. I have never had trouble with radishes maturing this way. The trick is to harvest some radishes early and harvest every other plant. This way you get to enjoy some baby radishes and you give the others space to fully mature.

Some radishes grow bigger than your basic round radish such as 'White Icicles'. You can plant larger growing radishes the same way as I described but you will need to thin the plants earlier to be 1-2 inches apart when the plants reach about1-2 inches in height. I would check the seed packs of larger radishes for information on thinning.
If you want to have radishes through the month May, plant new rows every two weeks starting in March with your last row being planted during the first week of May. You don't want to sow so many radishes in one planting that you end up with to many to eat in one harvest. The good news is radishes last longer in the ground when the day temperatures are cool. Once it get's warm they get woody.
A little frost typically isn't an issue with radishes. Even it is, by planting every two weeks you will get a good crop if the first fails. I have never had a crop fail even with a frost.

Planting Lettuces

Lettuces should be planted as seeds and as transplants. This way your garden produce will come more quickly to your table. Pick out whatever types of lettuce seeds you want. I plant lettuce seeds around mid March. I plant them in a two to three foot row and disregard the seed packet directions. I dig my rows no more than a 1/2 inch deep and sprinkle seeds into the row so the land 1/4 inch apart. I pay no mind if they touch. I probably drop 25-35 seeds into a row. I cover them with fine soil. Lettuces should be planted in soil that was loosened to a depth of 8-10 inches.
I plant the seeds this way because lettuces grow fast when the weather hits the right temperature. When the seedlings reach 2 inches tall, I carefully dig them up when the soil is more dry then wet. I space the seedlings out using a minimum of  6 inches between plants and I tuck the transplants into spaces all over my garden. Where ever there is space there goes a lettuce transplant I grew from seed.
Most types of lettuce can withstand frost and can actually freeze. I have watched this happen over and over again as my Fall crops hit the November and December freezes. Essentially, lettuce can freeze and freezing does not destroy/burst the plant's cells. So when it warms up, the lettuce is unharmed. Eventually continued freezing temperatures will kill it. That is usually due to the lettuce roots freezing. So some frost and even freezing is okay.
Because lettuce can withstand some frost and leaf freezing, I also buy lettuce transplants from my local garden center. I look for different varieties. The lettuces you buy as transplants should be healthy looking (of course) and 3-5 inches tall. I plant them about 6 to 12 inches apart in my garden. I use raised beds so I can plant things closer together (but raised bed gardening is yet another Knol). I also plant them closer together because I harvest a lot of lettuces when they are young. A good tip is to cut the lettuce off at ground level and leave the roots in the ground. Most lettuces will grow new leaves. As my lettuce seeds I planted first, grow to 2-3 inches, the transplants from the garden centers are maturing for harvest. This way I get more lettuces to my table through the cool Spring season.

Planting Spinach

I don't recall if I have ever seen spinach transplants. You don't need them anyway if they do exist. The best way to plant spinach is to turn the soil to a depth of 10-12 inches and plant seeds. I poke a hole in the ground with my finger to about 1/2 inch. Again, the seed packets will give you details but they usually say plant rows. I don't plant them in long rows.
I create a roughly shaped box that is typically 24 holes by 24 holes. I make my holes 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart and typically create a box-like or square planting in the ground. I drop in 1 seed per hole and cover with loose soil. If you a growing large leafing varieties, you can space the holes 2 -3 inches from each other.
Frost and freezing doesn't seem to bother many types of spinach. I have green spinach now that survived the entire Winter above ground. It stop growing during the Winter but the green that was there in December stayed until March. It is now growing and getting bigger. I suggest you do a couple of plantings of spinach every two weeks up through April.

Planting Kale and Collards

Follow my suggestions for lettuces for both kale and collard seeds and transplants. The only thing you need to change is the plant spacing. You want to read the seed packs and transplant labels for these greens. Most kale and collards get quite large and need to be planted 12 to 18 inches apart.  Kale and collards are great to grow because the can be harvested one leaf at a time or in bunches. There are dwarf variates if space is an issue.

Planting Beets, Parsnips and Turnips

Beets, parsnips and turnips have to be planted from seeds. Beets and turnips are typically round and mature to reach the size of a golf ball or grow to the size of a baseball. Parsnips are more carrot like and tap rooted. I sow all these seeds into rows 1/2 inch deep.You should cover them with fine soil. You can make the rows as long as you like. I space the rows 6 -12 inches apart. I plant the seeds 1/2 inch apart the entire length of the row.
When the plants are 1 inch tall you can thin them according to directions on the seed packet. In the case of beets, parsnips and turnips, I would follow the seed packets for thinning guidelines. I would plant two plantings of each of these vegetables two weeks apart. They grow much slower than radishes and take 65-85 days to mature. They also take a bit of time to sprout. Don't worry if you don't see them within two weeks of planting. Frost won't get to them. They only pop when they want to come out.

Planting Kohlrabi

It is described as an above the ground turnip with a cabbage broccoli type flavor. You plant them just how I described planting beets, parsnips and turnips. You should thin them to the directions on the seed packet when the plants are 1 to 2 inches tall. They like the cool weather so you can get them in the ground in later March.


Planting Peas

I love peas. There are basically two types. Peas that you eat in the pod and use whole or peas that you take out of the pods and just eat the peas. Or better known as edible pods or non-edible pods. You can go to a garden center and buy what every you like. You plant peas only as seeds.
They like loose soil. I plant my peas 1 inch deep and space them 2 inches apart. I use my index finger to make the holes. It doesn't have to be exact. I plant them in the box or square format as I described for spinach. That is, one pea every two inches from all directions or sides. Peas climb so you need to have supports for them to grow up. I use 5 foot bamboo poles and put one pole into each corner of the square planting pattern. Just remember where the corners are of your pea plantings and stick a pole in the ground. You can add poles later if needed. I tie string from corner to corner, every 4-6 inches, up the poles. There is no pattern to follow just put string all over the place and let the peas climb it like a ladder.
Peas can handle light frost but really can't handle freezing. But they too can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked and really only pop when the time is right. Two plantings of peas, two weeks apart will work best.

 Planting Cauliflower, Broccoli and Cabbages

I only plant cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages from transplants. Every time I tried to plant cauliflower and broccoli as seeds (in Maryland) they did not mature quick enough before the warm weather arrived and they bolted. They flowered and I did not get to eat them.

 Transplants work well for all three of these vegetables. Cabbages won't really bolt they just won't get as large. So, I would also recommend using transplants for cabbages. All three vegetable types can withstand frost and freezing. I plant my cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages mid-March and I space them 10-12 inches apart. You have to get these in early because they take a while to mature. I use a raised bed, so I can plant them closer together.

Planting  Carrots

Plant carrots in rows. You should plant them about 1/2 inch deep and cover them with fine soil. No clumps. I sprinkle seeds down the entire length of the row and thin as detailed on the seed package. I put a lot more seeds in a carrot row than needed because I find a lot of seeds don't germinate.
Carrot seeds take a while to sprout. I also have a heavy clay soil so I buy round carrots types or carrots the have short tap roots. You really need loose sandy soil for the longer carrots. Frost and freezing aren't an issue because they take so long to germinate. The pop when they are ready. Plant more carrot seeds than you need and thin accordingly.

Watering your garden

Keep your garden well watered using a gentle spray. The last thing you want to do is blast the seeds or seedling out of the ground with a hard stream of water.  During the cools season that is about every second or third day when you get consecutive sunny days.

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  1. Glad to find you! We are turning our backyard in Baltimore city into a large urban vegetable garden. Wish us luck!

    1. I work in the city. Maybe Ill see a huge garden growing. Good luck and feel free to ask questions. Id be glad to help.



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