Spinach, kale, turnips, broccoli, peas -- just a few reasons to love cool season vegetable gardening. Growing cool season crops helps you extend your harvest by several weeks, and allows you to grow a wider variety of tasty veggies. Here are some of the most popular cool season veggies, and how to grow them.
Kale is one of the most healthy foods you can eat; full of iron, calcium, B vitamins and fiber. And whether you enjoy curly kale or statuesque "dinosaur" kale, growing it is simple. Kale is perhaps best grown as a fall crop; a touch of frost results in a mild, sweet flavor that complements many dishes.
Kale can be grown in traditional garden beds or in containers. Consider mixing it into an ornamental border as well. Kale is very easy to direct sow in your garden; just space plants 12 inches apart, and amend the soil with compost before planting.
Lettuce is probably the easiest cool season crop to grow in your garden; just sprinkle some seeds on the soil, and within a month, you can be harvesting baby lettuce leaves for salads. A bit more time, and you've got crisp Romaines or buttery leaf lettuce.
Looseleaf lettuces are the easiest to grow; these are lettuces that you simply cut, harvesting a leaf at a time. They take less time and less fuss than head lettuces. The ubiquitous iceberg lettuce is actually among the most challenging of lettuces to grow, as it requires a long cool season to grow well and not taste bitter. Another advantage to looseleaf lettuces is that they can easily be grown in containers, from flower pots to window boxes.
Peas are a favorite spring vegetable for many gardeners, and it's easy to see why. They can be sown several weeks before the last spring frost date, and are among the first things we're able to harvest in our gardens. And, of course, they're delicious.
There are basically two types of peas: shelling peas and snap peas. Shelling peas are the ones that you remove from the pod. Snap peas are eaten, pod and all. They are harvested much earlier than shelling peas, when the pods are still flat and the peas inside are still quite small.
No matter which type you grow, peas grow best in cool weather. Once the weather gets consistently warm, their production slows way down. Grow peas in both spring and fall by sowing them directly into your garden.
Organic, homegrown broccoli is so tender, flavorful, and delicious that it barely even resembles the broccoli available at the supermarket. And when you grow your own, you can not only grow traditional heading broccoli, but also heirloom Romanesco broccolis, broccoli raab, or even purple broccoli.
Broccoli grows well in both spring and fall, but if you could only grow it in one season or the other, I'd recommend fall. The reason for this is that you can get a longer season (broccoli can withstand a touch of frost) in which to keep harvesting side shoots after the main head has been harvested. In addition, broccoli's main pest, the cabbage worm/cabbage white butterfly, is much more active in spring than in fall.
Grow broccoli from transplants (that you've either purchased or started indoors from seed) planting them at least 18 inches apart in soil that has been well amended with compost and manure. Don't let the soil dry out; this can result in bitter broccoli.
Purple carrots. This is reason enough to grow your own.
As if the ability to grow purple (or red, or yellow) carrots were not enough, homegrown carrots are so much sweeter and more flavorful than supermarket carrots that you'll honestly be spoiled for anything else once you try them.
The trick with carrots is just getting them started. They can take a while to germinate, and simply will NOT do so if the soil dries out. So you have to keep the seed bed consistently moist until the seeds germinate. The best way to do this is to lay either burlap or moist cardboard over the bed after you sow the seeds. Check daily, and remove the covering once the seeds have sprouted. This helps keep the soil just moist enough to get more consistent germination.
The other thing to keep in mind when growing carrots is to make sure that they have a nice, deep bed to grow in. Inadequate soil preparation can result in forked or otherwise oddly-shaped carrots.