Early Plantings Must Be Cold Crops

Is it cold crops or cole crops? Both terms work, actually. Let me explain.

First of all it’s the beginning of Spring. The Northern Hemisphere of the Earth is waking up slowly from its long winter nap. Birds and animals of all sorts have been wandering near and far to find mates as evidenced by the increasing roadkill we see at this time of year. I think the order is skunks first, then opossums, and raccoons judging by the carnage. 🙁

In the garden Spring starts a little slower than in the animal world. However, there are a number of plants that can take the cold and even grow in low temperatures.

Lettuce and onions have already been planted in our vegetable garden, but they’re not without protection from freezing temperatures. Old sheets to the rescue!

Cold crops would be described as all the plants that do well in the cold. How cold is cold? Just think Spring or Autumn temperatures at the ends of the growing season.

Cole crops are plants who are members of the Mustard Family, Cruciferae, now known as Brassicaceae.

The word cole derives from a Latin word caulis which means stem or stalk. A few of the cole crops even have names derived from the same term: cauliflower, collards, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale. All these guys excel at growing in cool temperatures.

In general leaf and root crops may do ok in the cold, but fruiting crops will have to wait for the warmer weather of summer. Tomatoes and peppers are example plants that need more heat to develop their fruits.

Here’s a list of cold crops separated into types of crops — leaves, roots, coles, and flowers:

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Early Plantings Protected By Sheets

Yes, it’s very early in Spring and it’s not officially Planting Season, but I did plant 12 alyssum next to the house this past Wednesday. The same type of plant did well there last year right up until a hard freeze. It’s a south-facing location protected on the North by the house, so captured heat from the daylight hours helps to keep the frigid cold at bay.

By the way planting season is considered to start in earnest when temperatures reach high enough that all danger of frost has past. Average last frost days can be looked up here. Take note: There is a 50% chance of a frost occurring after the spring date, so keep an eye on the weather or else!

In lieu of an actual chart for your specific area, just look around at what Mother Nature is doing. Have the grasses and trees greened up yet? Meaning, do the deciduous trees have their new leaves? Does the lawn look more green than it did in wintertime? The greening of the land is what you need to see before planting a vegetable garden or flower beds.

Cold Crops are those that can take a little cold and even grow without the heat of summer and that’s the only kind of plant that should be planted this early in the game.

Freckles Romaine and Buttercrunch Lettuce Starts
Freckles Romaine and Buttercrunch Lettuce Starts
Walla Walla Onion Starts
Walla Walla Onion Starts

Planted my favorite Romaine-type lettuce called “freckles” and a buttercrunch lettuce on 23 Mar 2016.

Walla Walla Onion starts were planted then, too.

(Photos taken 26Mar2016. Click on any small image for a larger view.)

Covering the tender young plants when the nights dip into the low 30s will have to be remembered, but I’m ok with that. I’m always watching the weather reports for what’s going on out there in nature. We just cover the plants with an old sheet or sheer curtain material to protect them from frost.

If you want your garden to look “nice” you can buy polypropylene row covers for the purpose of protecting your plants from frost and from hungry critters like birds, bunnies and caterpillars. Row covers should be available at any good garden center, but there are always a lot of options available at Amazon: row covers for plants.

Row covers and sheets work the same way to protect your crops.

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Fava Beans Reach For The Sky, Jack

Not too many crops grow fast in the peak of autumn. Most plants are developing roots then, not their aerial parts.

Fava Bean Plants About 3 Weeks Old
Fava Bean Plants About 3 Weeks Old

So, there might be an exception in the fava bean. It might be growing a lot of roots too, but the greenery actually grew very fast in the cool fall weather.

Now I see how that Jack-in-the-Beanstalk story got started. These broad beans grow

Read moreFava Beans Reach For The Sky, Jack

Got Garlic? September Is Time To Plant

September is a great time to plant garlic.

Best Garlic Planting Time Is Autumn
Best Garlic Planting Time Is Autumn

If you haven’t planted garlic in your own garden yet, we encourage you to give it a try. There’s nothing like digging up delicious bulbs of garlic that grew from your own efforts.

Autumn is the best time to plant garlic. The idea is to get the garlic cloves in the soil before the ground freezes in Winter and to do that early enough to give roots time to develop.

When you do it right, the garlic bulbs planted in Fall should be bigger and better than if you wait until Spring to plant.

Check out Amazon for a starter kit of garlic to plant, especially this Gourmet Organic Garlic Bulb Assortment . Having several varieties to try growing will ensure your success!

How To Plant Garlic

1. Prepare the soil

Dig or turn over the soil to a minimum depth of 6-8 inches. You don’t have to get scientific about it, but make sure the soil is loosened up. We want to give the roots some space to grow so digging to 10 inches deep would even be better.

Add some organic material like compost or old straw. We like to use straw bales that are a year or two aged by the weather. The old straw breaks down into the nicest, darkest soil.

2. Plant the cloves

Break apart a bulb of garlic and separate the cloves. Be careful not to remove the outer wrappers or membranes of the individual cloves.

Take note of how the cloves fit together in the bulb because you want to plant the cloves in the same orientation. Garlic cloves are pointy on top and flat on the bottom.

Push a clove with the flat end down into the soil about 1 inch deep. You want to make sure the pointy end is sticking up and that the tip is no deeper than an inch.

Plant the cloves about 8 inches apart.

Cover the cloves with soil and tap down.

Water liberally. Give the garlic about an inch of water each week unless you’re lucky enough to have Mother Nature do it for you.

3. Protect the garlic

Watch the weather. What good gardener doesn’t? Be aware of dropping temperatures and protect your garlic once freezing temperatures arrive.

After the ground surface freezes cover the garlic bed with 3-4 inches of straw. This will insulate the garlic from temperature extremes in early Spring and help to keep down the weeds when the garlic starts to re-grow.

There you have it. By planting garlic in September you’re on your way to a wonderful gardening season next year!

Time to Plant the Winter Lettuce

Gardening in September usually means a lot of harvesting going on and not much in the way of planting. The growing season is winding down now, but lettuce — being one of the cold crops — can be planted now for future enjoyment.

Lettuce can surprisingly make it through Winter, but it must obviously be protected from freezing conditions.

We like to use a sheet or other large piece of cloth material, like a curtain, to cover lettuce over the cold period. We call this overwintering lettuce the easy way.

Winter lettuce has become a thing to look forward to when the icy grip of winter starts to let go of the landscape. In March the baby lettuce that was sown in September will start growing again on warm sunny days.

By April you can be eating fresh salads while the grocery store offerings are still very expensive and puny.

We have plenty of time to plant some lettuce now. Broadcast a mixture of seeds for the best results!