Autumn and early spring are a great time for gardening. But what can you grow in those days when the nights and days are still relatively cool? Try this list of four cool weather crops for your vegetable garden.
There is more to lettuce than just Iceberg. Romaine and wild lettuces make a great addition to your salad. There are so many varieties that it’s hard to name just a few.
Lettuce is a cool weather crop and prefers it when the days and nights are cooler than 70 degrees. You can often buy lettuce plants at greenhouses, but it is just as easy to grow lettuce by seed. Buy some lettuce seed and place the seed in the soil in rows.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin suggests, "Lettuce seeds are tiny, and they're difficult to sow evenly. It's easy to simply scatter the seeds, and transplant them later. Once the seed has germinated and you see at least two sets of true leaves, you can carefully remove the seedlings and place them in a new hole to spread out the lettuce for best growth."
Head and Romaine lettuces need more space than wild and loose-leaf type lettuces. On average, you should plant the lettuce plants about six inches apart.
When the weather is too hot, lettuce will bolt or send up a flower stalk, and it often becomes bitter at this point. Luckily, there are lettuces that are resistant to bolting.
Peas are also cool weather crops. For most climates, they can be planted in early spring for a late spring harvest and late summer for a fall harvest.
TIP: Kathy adds, "In much of the US, peas are traditionally planted on St. Patrick's Day, assuming the soil is workable."
There are many different types of peas, including the snap peas and the pod peas. Pod peas need shelling when they are mature. Once the pods are shed the peas can be frozen, cooked, canned or boiled. Snap peas have edible pods. They can be left on the plant to swell and be used like pod peas, or they can be stir-fried or eaten raw in salads.
Peas like nitrogen-rich soil, and the nitrogen has to be in a form usable by plants. This is usually done by bacteria in the soil. Some pea gardeners use an innoculant, bacteria that are added to the soil to help nitrogen fixation. This can help the pea production.
TIP: Kathy suggests, "You can purchase innoculant at your garden center, and you'll soak the seed in the innoculant overnight before planting."
Pea blossoms are edible, but if you choose to eat them, they will not grow the peas themselves. Grow extra for this purpose if you choose to eat the blossoms.
You can also do successive planting with peas to extend your harvest, much like with beans.
Peas also will vine and require support. You can buy a pea fence or you can make one yourself using garden stakes and some garden twine.
Drill holes in the garden stakes or use ties to tie the twine on the stakes. Start by taking twine and placing it horizontally between the garden stakes. You should make as many of these as possible, but keep about 4 inches in between the strips of twine. Then take the twine and weave it in and out of the horizontal strips. The more jagged the design, the more the peas love it.
Peas have tendrils that grab onto just about anything, so be sure you have plenty of twine for them to grab onto. The pea fence should be at least 3 feet high but preferably 4 feet or more, as most peas can reach this height in a very short period of time in the right conditions.
When most people think of carrots, they think of long, thin orange ones. But the original carrots were most likely white and possibly a darker maroon color. There are many varieties of carrots that can be grown, from the long thin style to the smaller thumb sized carrots, ranging from red to yellow to white and orange.
Carrots prefer cool weather for the best germination and growth. They tend to take a long time to germinate, sometimes as long as 2 weeks to push through the soil. They are better when planted with radishes, a quick growing crop that does a few things for the carrots. First, the radish marks the rows so you can weed the carrot bed while you wait for the long germination time. Second, the radishes push and break up the soil so the carrots, which are weaker in stem strength, can push up more easily and readily through the soil.
Carrots take 2 to 3 months to fully mature, but can be picked early as baby carrots. The greens are often tasty treats for deer and pesky rabbits, but they can be covered or onions can be planted among them to keep these animals at bay.
Do not plant carrots near dill, as the carrots may cross-pollinate and that could result in a less productive season. Carrots also prefer a sandy soil, so adding some sand to the soil is a good bet. Carrots will also get hairy roots if over-fertilized.
TIP: Kathy advises, "Carrots require a loamy, sandy soil. If your soil is heavy and clay, your carrots will be disfigured. Adding compost to the garden bed before planting is one good way to ensure that your soil has adequate tilth to grow healthy carrots."
Cole Crops (Broccoli, Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts)
The cole crops are commonly known by the names such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower. These cool weather crops are grouped together because they are very similar in culture and growth.
These plants often grow to be 2 or 3 feet high and just as wide, so give them space when you plant them. They tend to wilt on higher temperature days. Keep them watered regularly and they should perk back up when the sun starts to go down.
Common pests of these plants are the cabbage butterfly, slugs and snails. The cabbage butterfly is an early emerging butterfly. If you see a small white butterfly flitting around the yard, it is most likely a cabbage white butterfly. It will lay its eggs on the cole crops. When they emerge, they are little green caterpillars that can quickly devastate a crop of broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.
You can manually pick off the caterpillars if you see them. There are also sprays or you can make your own spray using onion and cayenne pepper added to water. Add the onion and cayenne or even fresh hot peppers (any will do, but the hotter the better) to a blender. Add some garlic too. Add some water and blend to a puree. Then strain it out into a spray bottle and spray the plants you want to protect. Most insects and pests don’t like the smell or taste and will avoid it. Reapply after a heavy soaking or rain; each night would be fine.
TIP: Kathy says, "In warmer climates, cole crops do better as a fall plant, rather than spring, as they tend to bolt in hot weather."
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