Cool Season Vegetables

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

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The cool-season vegetables are among my favorite garden crops.  They can be planted earlier than most people even think about picking up a trowel, which means you can be bringing fresh produce to the table well before the first tomato is planted.

    Edible-podded peas can be planted anytime in January or February.  I doubt there is any food more delectable.  They are delicious steamed, sautéed, and sometimes don’t even make it from garden to kitchen before being sampled!  Sugar Snap is the classic variety and performs well, but don’t hesitate to try something new.  They can be direct-seeded, but will need trellising.  Harvest as the peas just begin to get plump, and pull the strings out before cooking.  Onion seeds are slow to sprout, but sets (i.e. baby plants) are widely available at local garden centers.  Plant them as early as the beginning of February.

    Irish potatoes can go in starting in mid-February.  Note that these are not the large Idaho baking potatoes you find in the grocery store.  Use high quality seed potatoes purchased from a local garden center, and plant four inches deep.  Planting a grocery store potato that sprouted on the kitchen counter is a fun experiment, but not a viable production method.  New potatoes, the young and tender “babies”, are a special early-season treat.

    Plant radish and carrot seeds directly into the garden in mid-February.  Radishes are a fun crop, especially for kids, as they grow so fast.  Carrots can be slow to germinate, so be patient and don’t give up on them.  Greens such as lettuce, mustard, spinach and turnips can be planted at the beginning of March.  If direct-seeded they may be slow to germinate and will need thinning.  Instead, get a jump on the season by starting seeds indoors in early February.  You will have stronger plants and an earlier harvest.  I favor the leaf lettuces, which can be picked continuously rather than waiting for a head to form.  Pick early and often for tender, tasty greens.  The maroon and red varieties make your salads look as good as they taste.

    Brocolli, cabbage and cauliflower can be set out in mid-March.  Transplants are widely available from garden centers, or start your own indoors.  Check daily for tiny green worms and squash them with gusto!  Even better, look for clumps of tiny eggs and dispatch them before hatching into leaf devouring caterpillars.  Broccoli is perhaps my favorite vegetable, even the frozen store-bought kind, but garden fresh is in a class by itself!

    Adventurous gardeners may want to sample other cool-weather crops, such as kale, kohlrabi, Diakon radishes and Swiss chard.  I even tried rutabagas once with great success, but had no idea what to do with them!

    The cool-season garden offers many pleasures.  After all, the weather is mild and the Japanese beetles are sleeping.  Weeds grow more slowly and crops aren’t parched by drought.  A complete planting guide, including dates, spacing, and recommended varieties, is available from my office (257-3640 or paul_mckenzie@ncsu.edu).