If the long-range forecasts are correct, we’re in for a chilly, wet spring. While that might sound discouraging, vegetable crops that prefer the cooler temperatures should grow great this year.
Cool-season crops can be planted as soon as the soil in your garden is dry enough to be worked, usually in early to mid-April. Let’s look at some of the most popular crops and recommended varieties of each.
Carrots and parsnips – These have the same growing requirements: Loosen the soil in the bed to a depth of at least 12 inches. Don’t add much manure or high-nitrogen soil amendments as this can cause the roots to split.
Varieties: (carrots) Nantes, Bolero, Rainbow Blend; (parsnips) Harris Model, Hollow Crown.
Lettuce – The only hard part about growing lettuce is choosing from the many varieties available. I plant mine in blocks and thin the plants 4 to 6 inches apart. I harvest leaves rather than the plants to extend the season.
Varieties: Red Sails, Sea of Red, Prizehead, Speckled, Esmeralda.
Onions – These can be started from seeds, bulb-like sets or seedlings. Plant them 2 inches apart and space the rows 6 to 8 inches apart. Harvest every other onion as a scallion, leaving the remainder to grow into large, storable bulbs.
Varieties: Valencia, Red Globe, Walla Walla.
Peas – I start mine indoors since the seeds can rot in cold, wet soil. They will need a trellis to grow up and should be harvested frequently, while they are young and tender.
You will have to choose between shelling, sugar snap or edible pod varieties but they are all fun to grow and productive.
Did you know pea leaves can be used in salads? They taste just like the peas themselves.
Varieties: Lincoln, Mammoth Melting Sugar, Cascadia, Alderman.
Potatoes – Traditionally planted around Good Friday, certified disease-free seed potatoes can be purchased from garden centers. Cut them into chunks that contain two “eyes” each, as that is where the plants will sprout. Let the chunks cure for several hours before planting.
An alternative is to purchase small seed potatoes and plant them whole. Plant them 4 to 6 inches deep and 1 foot apart. Hand-pick Colorado potato beetles if you see any.
Varieties: Yukon Gold, Kennebec, All Blue, or fingerling varieties.
The next seven crops are common targets of leaf miners, aphids and/or cabbage loopers. To avoid this problem, plant them beneath a floating row cover.
This lightweight fabric lets in air, light and water but provides a physical barrier that keeps insects out. Weigh down the fabric edges with bricks or boards.
Beets – Ever since tasting roasted beets, I make room for this crop every year. Prepare the soil deeply for best results and remember that you can harvest the greens as well as the roots.
Varieties: Detroit Dark Red, Golden, Chioggia, Bull’s Blood.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower – These cole crops should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. I plant mine in a zigzag pattern to squeeze extra plants into my raised beds. All can be started indoors about 4 weeks before our last frost, which is usually in mid-May.
Varieties: (broccoli) Calabrese, Arcadia, Munchkin; (Brussels sprouts) Franklin, Jade Cross; (cabbage) Early Jersey Wakefield, Invento; (cauliflower) Snow Crown, Amazing.
Swiss chard – I grow this in place of spinach because it’s tough and won’t bolt to seed in hot weather. It’ll even grow well into the fall. Space the plants 6 to 8 inches apart.
I harvest leaves rather than whole plants. Try sautéing shallots in butter, then add the chard leaves and let them steam for a few minutes. It’ll make you give up spinach for good. It freezes well, too.
Varieties: Bright Lights, Silverado.