Summer may be king when it comes to vegetable gardening in many areas of the country, but gardeners are discovering that spring and fall can be productive seasons, too. Their cooler temperatures and more abundant moisture are a one-two punch that propels some hardy vegetables into overdrive. Meet six cool-season vegetables worthy of space in your garden.
Carrots. This hardy root vegetable, above, takes awhile to germinate, so it’s often seeded along with radishes, which sprout quickly and are harvested just in time for carrots to take over. Carrots grow well in spring, when there is time to sow in batches for a succession of harvest. For fall, choose a variety that matures in 60 days rather than the more typical 75 days, and cover with straw if frost is due. Carrots grow best in a rich, loose soil that allows for full root development.
Radishes. Some varieties mature in as little as 30 days, so it’s not surprising that gardeners can harvest a crop (or three) of radishes after school starts. Just loosen up some soil enriched with compost, smooth with a garden rake, sprinkle the seeds, and lightly cover with soil. In 30 to 40 days, you’ll be adding these flavorful vegetables to your salads!
Leaf Lettuce. One look at the cost of bagged salad in the supermarket and you’ll be glad you sowed a crop of leaf lettuce. For best flavor, sow the seeds of several varieties (it also looks more attractive, as you can see in the picture). All take the same growing conditions: rich, loose soil, consistent moisture, and cooler temperatures. Although somewhat frost tolerant, it’s best to cover the crop if temperatures dip below freezing. Or grow your crop in a cold frame.
Kale. Once used to decorate salad bars, kale is now everyone’s favorite wonder vegetable. Packed with nutrients, it makes a nice companion to lettuce in salads. Young leaves taste the best, and the flavor improves after frost. You can sow seeds or plant container-grown kale, which matures in about 2 months. Kale is forgiving when it comes to soil as long as it’s well drained and has some nutrients for growth.
Swiss Chard. Get the kids to help you grow this plant—they’ll be so enamored with the bright red and gold stems that they’ll be clamoring to eat this nutritious vegetable. The leaves are most commonly eaten, but the stems are sometimes roasted or pickled. Sow seeds in spring for an early summer crop or in late summer for a fall crop. In warm areas of the country, sow in fall for a winter crop. Swiss chard is not picky about soils.
Spinach. How much does spinach like cool weather? It’s sometimes found growing (or at least surviving) under snow cover. Sow seed in early spring or late summer and enjoy this highly nutritious leafy green raw or cooked. It matures in just 40 or 50 days. You can grow two types: the crinkly-leaved type (shown) or a flat-leaved type known as Malabar spinach. Grow either type in a light soil amended with plenty of compost, and feed regularly.