New to growing spring vegetables? Trying something new such as growing new crops can be intimidating. Join me as I explain how I selected cold season vegetables to plant in my garden this spring.
I love gardening, it is my passion. However, growing spring vegetables is something that has always intimidated me. Questions such as is it too cold or too early can trip me up and cause me to tuck those seed packets back into the box where they belong. All of the rules surrounding starting these seeds makes me stressed, if I’m being honest. But this year I’m going to face my fears and dive right into planting vegetables this spring.
Warm vs Cold Season Vegetables
Before we begin, it is important to know that there are two main types of vegetables. Ones that grow and thrive when the weather is cool. These are called cool season vegetables. And ones that require warm air and soil temperatures to properly grow. These are called warm season vegetables. Penn State has written a helpful article explaining the basics of both types of vegetables. Penn State has a list giving examples of each type of vegetable. Both articles are easy to read for beginners.
Selecting Cold Season Vegetables to Grow
First, If you are going to spend the time and energy to grow your own vegetables, you should select ones that you and your family actually like to eat. For me this list includes: spinach, carrots, kale, and lettuce. Your family may really enjoy broccoli and turnips. Do what works for you. Just because kale is the best new thing, if you know it will not get eaten, grow something else instead.
Growing Cut and Come Again Vegetables
In my yard, I have limited garden space available for vegetables. To make sure I am making the best use of space, I decided to plant vegetables that I can get a continuous harvest out of such as lettuce, spinach, and kale. Since I will be picking the leaves off of the plants as I need them, the plant will have time to recover and regrow new leaves. This means that I can harvest over and over again greens from the same plants. The exception to this is carrots, but we eat a lot of carrots so I feel that it is worth it to grow them in my limited space.
Use the Seed Packet as Your Guide
Seed packets can contain a wealth of knowledge about how to successfully plant and grow each type of seed. The amount of information varies by seed company. If you are new to growing vegetables, comparing seeds from different brands can be helpful. Thankfully, my local garden center carries a variety of brands so I am able to look over and compare one to another.
Words To Look For When Selecting Spring Vegetables
- Frost hardy
- Early spring
- Requires cool temperatures
- Plant 2 weeks before last frost
- Plant in spring then again in the fall
Warm vs Cold Season Vegetable Seed Packet
Let’s look at the back of the seed packet of two different types of seeds. I selected spinach for the cool weather and a tomato variety for the warm weather.
Notice the different words for the warm season tomatoes versus the cool season spinach. When selecting vegetables to grow in my early spring garden, I used the words on the back of the seed packet as my guide. All of the seeds I selected contained words such as frost hard, cool season, early spring, and plant before your last frost.
When is My Last Frost Date?
If you are going to plant any type of annual flower, vegetable, or herb in your yard it is important to know your last frost date. This is the last day that on average your area has received frost in the past.
When planting annuals, which are plants that complete their entire life cycle in one growing season. They sprout from a seed, grow, reach maturity, set flower all in one growing season. The flower then turns to fruit, and the fruit contains the seeds necessary for the plant to grow again next season.
Knowing your last frost date is important when growing annuals because cold temperatures and frost typically kills annuals. Most annuals are not meant to grow during the winter if you live in a cold climate. To learn more about determining your growing season check out this article from a previous blog post.
Planting Seeds Outdoors
One option is to direct sow cold season veggies into the garden without protection. This means that you do not start them indoors using grow lights. With this option, you have to wait until the weather is warm enough outside to plant the seeds directly into the garden soil. In cold climates snow is possible into April. You will have to wait until it is only a few weeks away from your last frost date to plant outside. For cold climates, like New England, that means I would need to wait to plant directly outdoors.
Start Seeds Indoors then Transplant Outside
With this option, use the directions on the seed packet to see when you should start growing seeds indoors. The directions on the kale mixture that I planted recommended starting seeds indoors 4-6 weeks prior to your last frost date. You can direct sow these outside without staring them indoors. If you do that, it will just take longer for the plants to reach maturity. This year I am going to do a mix of direct sowing, starting indoors, and season extenders. I’m excited to see how each method compares to the other.
Using a Hoop House to Let You Grow Cold Season Vegetables Earlier
In order to start growing outside at the start of spring in March, I planted my vegetables in a raised bed hoop house. Now, if you live in a warmer climate, you can either skip this step and plant directly into the garden bed in the spring. Or use a hoop house to plant when it is still winter. Up where we live in New England, our growing season is around 127 days and starts at the end of May or beginning of June. That means my last frost date is at the end of May, but there is still a chance of receiving a light frost into June!
I followed the directions on the back of each of the seed packets to know when and how deep to plant the seeds. The hoops can be lowered at night or if we receive snow. Since the hoops offer protection, I wasn’t too concerned with the exact number of weeks the seeds should be planted before the last frost date.
Now, when I direct sow more seeds into a garden bed that does not have a hoop house, I will have to pay attention to the recommended planting dates. Many of the seeds I selected stated that planting can be done as soon as the soil is workable in the spring. So for those I will just have to wait until the ground is no longer frozen. Once it is defrosted I can start planting.
Benefits of a Hoop House
In years past, I waited, rather impatiently, to start my plants outside after the threat of frost has passed. Unfortunately, this means that I missed out on an additional two months worth of garden time in the spring! I wasn’t going to let that happen this year. If you are looking for ideas for extending your growing season in a cold climate stay tuned because I have a few other techniques that I am going to try for the first time this year.
With such a short window of time, I want to ensure that I am getting as much growing in as possible. In my raised garden bed, I purposely over planted seeds. This was done so that I could transplant extra seedlings into another bed without having to manage two separate seed starting locations.