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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