Today I’m sharing some tips for how to start your garden with cool season vegetables. If you’re like me and you’re eager to get your garden going, cool season vegetables are the perfect solution.
As a gardener, winter can seem so long. And sometimes, the eagerness for planting season leads to planting too soon. It goes something like this…we’re tired of winter, we miss gardening and then all of sudden there is a gorgeous sunny day. And then maybe a whole weekend of warmer temperatures. So we head out to our local gardening center and sure enough they are ready for us. We are surrounded by plants, fill up our cart and head home to begin planting.
We start our garden filled with excitement.
But it’s too soon.
A frost hits, we lose our plants and we have to start all over again.
Cool season vegetables are the perfect solution.
Cool Season Vegetables
One of the basic concepts that all gardeners should have as part of their arsenal is an understanding of cool season vs. warm season plants.
A few years ago, Bill and I served as volunteer 4-H leaders for a campus based club we created to serve children of students living on campus. Our 4-H club was named Eat, Grow, Lead. The Grow part of our club focused on gardening and included each of our participants sharing a portion of the campus community garden.
One of the first Grow lessons we shared with our 4-Hers was one about cool season vs. warm season plants.
It was important for us to begin gardening as soon as possible, meaning we didn’t want to wait until summer to begin gardening. So we taught our 4-Hers how to start their gardens with cool season vegetables. It was a great way to get started in the spring before our students (and their children-our 4-Hers) took a summer break.
What is a Cool Season Vegetable?
Cool season vegetables have either a hardy or semi-hardy frost tolerance. This means that the gardening fun can begin before your average last frost date and you won’t risk losing your plants, if you plant cool season vegetables.
Hardy plants can tolerate cold weather and can be planted before your last frost date. Some can even handle a freeze. Semi-hardy plants can also be planted before your last frost date and can handle a light frost. However, a hard frost can damage semi-hardy plants.
In our zone (7a), our average last frost date is April 15 and we begin planting our cool season vegetables around March 1.
Warm season plants are considered tender or very tender. They cannot handle cooler temperatures and grow better during warm temperatures.
Our Cool Season Favorites
I love when Bill and I head to our local feed store to pick up potato tubers and onion sets. It means the gardening season is about to begin and we will have homegrown vegetables in our kitchen in the near future.
Earlier this week, we planted potatoes, peas, kale and broccoli. Bill also planted onions, spinach, beets, and rhubarb. (I, also, snuck a row of sweet peas on the trellis in the back of the raised bed where the potatoes are planted. I think the leafy greens of the potato plants will pair perfectly with the multi-colored sweet pea flowers.)
As someone who did not grow up gardening, I find it so interesting how the different plants are started. We start some from seed and some from plants. And others from crowns, tubers, and sets. There is always so much to learn.
Cool Season Plants to Start from Seed
The following is a list of our favorite cool season vegetables that we start from seed. We always end up planting more leafy greens then we can keep up with, but the chickens don’t mind helping us out. Not included on our list is carrots, we have tried them but they carrots always end up tasting something like pencil wood. It’s just too hot in Stillwater.
- Swiss Chard
Cool Season Vegetables to Start from Plants
My favorite cool season plant by far is cabbage. It isn’t necessarily my favorite one to eat. But it is definitely my favorite one to watch grow. It is truly a miracle that what looks like a few leaves turns into such an amazing and huge plant. And if you have the space, try both red and green cabbage plants. They are both so gorgeous.
Cool Season Vegetables to Start from Crowns, Tubers and Sets
I loving growing Yukon Gold potatoes! They are so good, you don’t even need butter. We, also, planted a new crop of asparagus this year, Jersey Knight Asparagus to be exact. It is a predominantly male variety, the stalks are thicker and more tender. We will not harvest it for a few seasons. The plant is a perennial and can last as much as 20 years. So amazing!
Our Vegetable Garden
Our vegetable garden is mostly contained in the raised beds surrounding our barn. Each bed has water directly to it and we use soaker hoses to water the beds. In addition to our cool season vegetables, we grow lots of warm season vegetables.
When planning your garden, keep in mind that after you harvest the majority of your cool season vegetables, you may be able to follow-up with planting some of your warm season vegetables in the same location.
The exception to that are perennial vegetables like asparagus–they will need their own permanent space. For us that means our asparagus has a separate area. We keep the asparagus along a fence so that the area is out of the way and not disturbed year round. For northern climates (not ours), rhubarb is also a perennial.
I’ll share more with you soon. You can also check out my Instagram stories and posts, where I have been sharing our garden for a few years now.
A Few More Tips and Ideas
- Save your leftover seeds and use them in your fall garden. Store the seeds in the refrigerator or a cool location.
- When planting from seeds, remember that your seeds need seed to soil contact. So be sure to press the seed into the soil.
- Your local county Cooperative Extension Service provides fact sheets on gardening for your climate. Be sure to check out available online resources for more ideas.
- You can also find information on local 4-H Clubs through your county Cooperative Extension Service. You could serve as a volunteer and/or enroll your child in a club.