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Friday, March 8, 2013

Planting 9 Types of Great Cool Season Vegetables

Planting  9 Types of Great Cool Season Vegetables

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. Some vegetables will grow all season long but can handle the cold and frost, so why not get them in the ground and to your table as soon as possible!

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 mid to late 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.  A lot of vegetables prefer the cool weather and grow best during those times.

Vegetables that Like The Cold - The Rusted Garden Blog

Some of the cool weather crops to consider:
    • Radishes
    • Lettuces of every type and don't forget Spinach.
    • Kale and Collard
    • Kohlrabi
    • Peas
    • Swiss Chard
    • Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbages.

There are more cool weather crops. Some of these plants are best planted directly from seed and some are best planted as transplants. This varies a little based on your planting zone. Maryland is zone 7. You can purchase transplants from your local nursery or garden center. You can also grow them indoors from seeds. In the case of lettuces, I plant both seeds and transplants. Seed starting in doors or using transplants helps get garden produce to your table as soon as possible. Transplants will mature to table as your seeds take hold. March is the time to plant. You don't have to wait for the warm tomato weather to start planting your garden.

Shouldn't I worry about frost?

Yes and no. All of the vegetables I mentioned 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 a little bit about frost and freezing.

The real risk of damage is consecutive days of all day freezing temperatures. Even a little snow won't matter. Your are looking for mostly 35+ degree night and 45+ degree days as the starting signal to plant. A couple hours of freezing temperatures at night and frost won't do much damage. It is extended freezing periods that cause harm.

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 cool weather of spring.

Planting Radishes

Radishes need loose soil to about a depth of 8-10 inches. They can be planted once the soil can be worked. Most radish types mature within 25 to 30 days. Radishes should only be planted as seeds and there are dozens of radish seed types at your local garden centers. I recommend buying several varieties.

Basic Radish Rows - The Rusted Garden Blog

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 to 2 inches apart across the entire length of the row. The variance in spacing is based on the size of the mature radish. Smaller radishes can be planted more closely together.

I space my rows about 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. You can crowd the seeds a bit and thin if you want.

Different Types of Radishes - The Rusted Garden Blog

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 and spacing.

If you want to have radishes through the month of 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 too 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 Lettuce

Lettuces should be planted as seeds and as transplants you start indoors. 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. One way I plant them is in a two to three foot row and I 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 about 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 4-6 inches between plants and I tuck the transplants into spaces all over my garden. Wherever there is space there goes a lettuce transplant I grew from seed. This is just one way to plant lettuces. My transplants are the thinned out lettuces.

Lettuce, Chard & Radishes - The Rusted Garden Blog

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 and grow my own. I look for different varieties and get them out as soon as possible. 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. The larger spacing is because I am growing them to full maturity. If you want to grow baby lettuces or 'cut and come again lettuce' you can plant them closer.

Different Ways to Plant Lettuce Including a Scatter Plot Method

I also plant them closer together, as mentioned, because I harvest a lot of lettuces when they are young as 'cut and come again'. 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 and you can get several harvests from them.

Mixing up seeds and transplants will get you more produce. 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. There are many ways to plant lettuce. I am just suggesting a few ways that work for me.

Planting Spinach

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 stopped 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. I used to think spinach transplants were unnecessary but they work well. If you plant on seed per cell, you can get some plants into the garden that will mature nicely as you what for you seeds to take hold and grow.

Planting Kale and Collards
 From experience, kale and collards are easily grown indoors and make great transplants. Start them indoors 4-6 weeks early. 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. I plant them as transplants as to get mature plants in the ground but for a household of four you really don't need any more than 4-6 plants of any one variety. They get large.

Kale Transplants I Grew - The Rusted Garden Blog

Kale and collards are biennials. That means they will grow spring, summer, fall, winter (if mild enough), spring again and flower. I eat the flowers of my second year kale and collards and they are delicious. With some care and pest management you can eat call spring-fall in Maryland. The first year plants don't bolt and flower like other cool season crops.

Over Winter 'Red Russian' Kale - The Rusted Garden Blog

Planting Kohlrabi

It is described as an above the ground turnip with a cabbage broccoli type flavor. I plant them as seeds and as transplants I grow. They look very much like kale and collards as the are growing up but form a great tasting baseball size bulb above the ground. You can eat the leaves too.

Picked Kholrabi - The Rusted Garden Blog

You should thin them to the directions on the seed packet when the plants are 1 to 2 inches tall. The get quite large. They like the cool weather so you can get them in the ground in later March. I plant my transplants 4-6 inches apart as top get a nice large apple sized root. It is above ground remember.

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 can plant peas as seeds or transplants. I once believed they could not be planted as transplants. I experimented and was wrong.

They like loose soil. I plant my peas 1 inch deep and space them 2-4 inches apart when putting them in the ground.  I use my index finger to make the holes. I typically plant them along a chicken wire trellis as peas MUST have something to climb up. I also plant peas in containers and I have a video that shows you how to do that. Containers are great to use because you can plant them sooner while the garden beds warm up and dry up. Peas don't do well in cold soggy earth. They rot.

Grow Peas in Containers: Planting to Picking

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, 2-3 weeks apart will work best for continued production.

Planting Swiss Chard

I grow 'bright lights' swiss chard. It is a great green that will grow spring till fall. It doesn't bolt either and you can keep harvesting it the entire growing season. I typically start them indoors or buy transplants. They can handle a light frost and can go in the ground as soon as it can be worked.

Mature Swiss Chard - It's a 3 Season Garden Vegetable

They grow quite large and should be planted with spacing like you would use for kale and collards. I plant mine at about 12 inches. In the above picture, they are the 4 plants closest to the front. I have 4 plants in a 4 foot row. They look like leafy greens with some red on the stem. The stem is great in a stir-fry too!

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. They really like the cold and the sooner you get them in the better. Warmth tends to quicken the flowering of your broccoli and cauliflower.

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 to keep them growing in the cool weather. All three vegetable types can withstand frost and freezing. I plant my cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages mid-March and I space them 12-18 inches apart. You have to get these in early because they take a while to mature. And they get large. I tend to plant things more closely together. More spacing is okay. I use a raised bed, so I can plant them closer together.

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 you'll have to water about every second or third day when you get consecutive sunny days. If it is cloudy the soil tends to stay moist. Just don't let the seeds and seedling dry out or create pools of soggy soil.

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