Cool Season Crops

Hooray, it is finally spring! It's getting around the time for most gardeners in the United States to start growing food crops!

In April, I'm going to profile 4 different spring crops:

  • Peas 
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce

These are spring crops, also known as "cool season crops." There are many more cool season crops than these, and I've written about some of them previously:

What is a Cool Season Crop?

A cool season crop is a vegetable that will germinate (if planted from seed) and grow in cool soil and air. Air and soil temperatures need to be around 40 degrees Fahrenheit for seeds to germinate and transplants to get started.  

Many of these crops start to fade when it gets too hot. When planning your garden, consider how long the spring crop will last and plan for another use of the space in the garden.

A few will continue through the hot summer months (see article from 2021 - Swiss Chard: A Love Story)

Hardy and Semi-Hardy 

Another classification of a cool season crop is its hardiness: "hardy" or "semi-hardy." Hardiness refers to how well the crop tolerates cold temperature. As you know, in the spring, the weather can be variable and you can have a freeze (or frost) after you've planted your garden.

Hardy Crops

Some vegetables will survive the frost. Even if the temperature dips below freezing (32 degrees) and even in to the 20's, they will survive and keep on growing. Although, they aren't growing rapidly at these temperatures. 

These are the hardy crops. Spring hardy crops include:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Collards
  • Green Onions (Bunching Onions)
  • Onions
  • Rutabaga
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

If you think about it, many of these vegetables are prominent in the cuisines of northern Europe and Asia - because they could grow them in their colder climate. 

You can start these earliest in the spring, several weeks before your average last freeze date. 

Semi-Hardy Crops

Other vegetables will survive if it doesn't get too cold for too long. These are the semi-hardy vegetables. Here's a partial list:

  • Cilantro
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Arugula
  • Asian Greens (like bok choy, Napa cabbage)
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Endive
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
  • Salsify
  • Swiss Chard

What is "too cold?" It's not always a hard-and-fast rule. Usually they will survive if the temperature doesn't go below 30 degrees. 

You can plant these a week or two before the last frost date. If the temperature does dip below 30 degrees, you can protect the sprouts with a cover, and that's usually enough to keep them going. 

Through the Season

Spring is the busiest time in the garden for planting. The second busiest time comes near the end of spring, when it's time to plant the heat-loving vegetables. 

When planning your garden, you also need to think of the use of your garden space over time. When some of these crops are done and they are harvested and removed, garden will space open up. This opens up the possibility for new plantings. 

A Few Faves

My favorite cool season crops are listed below. If you haven't tried one or more of these suggestions in your garden, why not save a little space to try something new?

  • Lettuce - I plant a few varieties to make a delicious salad
  • Carrots - it's magical to pull the carrots when they're ready - like uncovering a treasure
  • Swiss Chard - it's attractive, it grows well, and it tastes great!
  • Green Onions - when you harvest these, trim and rinse, they look just like what you find in the grocery store. 
  • Beets - Beautiful color and great taste

This year I'm also planting peas for the second time. I'm not sure if it's a favorite yet.


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