Cool Season Crops
Leafy greens and root vegetables are abundant in the cooler months and many will withstand frost and freeze. If you like to have your hand in every stage of your plant’s life, then start with the seeds. There are many benefits to growing your garden from seed and some little hints make it a fun and easy experience.
– Growing from seed allows you a greater selection of vegetable varieties. Not a fan of curly kale? Try growing Lacinato or Toscano varieties for a different texture and slightly milder flavor. You can grow purple broccoli, orange beets, red turnips, heirloom peas, lettuce varieties and the list goes on. Grab a seed catalog or two and explore the vegetables that are at your fingertips (seed catalog suggestions are at the end of the document).
– If you are interested in organic growing, you have control of each phase and will have no questions about what happened to a plant along the way to a garden store.
– Remember when planting from seed, the soil must remain moist for a high germination rate. If you are unable to water a couple of times a day after planting seeds, meet a neighbor, get a friend involved in your garden or set up a rain barrel and automatic watering system.
Some basic but fun planning is necessary before beginning the process of seeding.
Measure your garden space and figure out how many plants will fit in your space. Some seed catalogs will state the size of a mature plant. If it doesn’t, research it so you don’t spend your time growing plants that you won’t even have room for.
Cooperative Extension services have excellent guides for vegetable and fruit production. Peruse their sites and find the one that is most user friendly for you. Be wary of varieties recommended for different regions. Do a little research on the varieties that interest you and make sure they are hardy in your zone.
– Clemson Cooperative Extension has a handy guide to planting dates for our region. Follow the link to learn more about appropriate dates for planting: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/gardening/hgic1256.html
– Cornell University has a detailed vegetable growing guide that provides information on specific crops: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene0391.html
– Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension also has very detailed growing guides for vegetables and fruits: http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/category/fruits-vegetables.html
An excellent size for a small family garden is 30-40 square feet. You can grow 2-4 lbs of produce per square foot and if trellises are used, even more pounds of produce can be grown. For planting at the beginning of October, check out this sample fall and into winter garden plan and tips for planting particular veggies.
Radish: (One- 4’ row, 6” wide) Direct Sow into your garden bed by making a ¼” deep trough. Lightly sprinkle radish seeds & cover with soil. Once seedlings are ½-1” in height, thin the seedlings by snipping excess seedlings. Thin to one seedling every 3 inches. Try a french breakfast variety for optimum flavor. Excellent for digestive health.
Arugula: (One-4’ row, 8” wide)Direct sow into your garden bed by making a ¼” deep trough. Sprinkle seeds and cover with soil. Arugula can be thinned but is not necessary. Arugula can be harvested when leaves are 2 inches long. Harvest by using scissors and cutting bunches of leaves. New leaves will form and can be harvested within a couple of weeks. The first two cuttings of arugula are the best and it can be reseeded throughout the winter if the temperatures are not freezing. Arugula Pesto is fantastic!
Kale: (One-4’ row, 18” wide, Three plants) Can be direct sown as late as mid-October or plants can be found at garden centers. Sow ¼-½” deep and thin to 18” per plant. Kale will survive freezing temperatures if not extensive. Leaves may be damaged but plant will produce new leaves after freeze. Try baked kale chips, kale and apple muffins or kale and carrot muffins, add to pureed sweet potatoes.
Collard Greens: (One-4’ row, 18” wide, Three plants) Can be direct sown as late as mid-October or plants can be found at garden centers. Sow ¼-½” deep and thin to 18” per plant. Collards will survive freezing temperatures if not extensive. Try Baked Collard Chips.
Carrots: (Two-4’ rows, 6” wide) A store-bought carrot cannot compare to a homegrown carrot! Before planting carrot seeds, till your soil thoroughly by removing any dirt clods or other possible obstructions. Carrots need soil that is easily penetrated so spend some time on soil preparation. Direct sow carrots ¼” deep. Thin to one carrot every 3”. Carrots can take 21 + days to germinate so don’t give up on them. They, also, need lots of water so be prepared to water two to three times per day in order to keep the soil moist. Once carrots have matured, slow down on the watering as too much water can cause cracking in the carrot. Depending on the variety, carrots will be ready in 60-80 days. Pull a carrot to see if it is the size you want. Only harvest what you will use and allow the others to continue growing. Upon harvesting, immediately cut the carrot greens and wash the carrots. Store in a plastic bag. Don’t forget to use the carrot greens as an addition to salad greens or make carrot green pesto.
Broccoli & Cauliflower: Find plants in garden centers to plant in your garden by mid-October. Plants will ‘bolt’ (begin producing seed) when temperatures are 30-50 degrees consistently for 10 days. Once the large, center flower is harvested for the broccoli, smaller flowers will form on side shoots. Make sure to harvest broccoli and cauliflower when the flower bud is tight and has not begun opening. If your broccoli bolts before you harvest a head of broccoli, you can still harvest the little yellow flowers, the stems and the leaves.
Turnips & Rutabaga: (One-4’ row, 12” wide)As with all root crops, these do best when direct sown into your garden bed rather than being transplanted. Plant ¼-½” deep & thin to 2” apart. These root crops will do well through a freeze but as weather warms, the root can become pithy. The flavor is enhanced after the first frost and the leaves of both can be eaten. Try slicing rutabaga, drizzling with olive oil & honey, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grilling on low heat.
Beets: (One-4’ row, 8” wide) Direct sow by early October at a depth of ¾”. The seedball has 3-4 seeds so the seedlings, once they emerge, will need to be thinned to 3”. Harvest the greens and root of this colorful plant. Plant every three weeks through October for a continuous crop.
Garlic: (Six cloves planted 8” apart across 4’ row) Plant garlic cloves in mid-October to early November for a June harvest. Garlic bulbs have 10 cloves. Pull the cloves apart and plant each clove 2” deep with the pointy side up. In the spring, you can harvest green garlic which has a delectable, mild garlic flavor and can be used similar to leeks or shallots. Green garlic can, also, be used to make a green garlic pesto (yes, pesto can be made out of most anything) which is delightfully savory when served over charred baguette, as a dollop stirred into turnip soup or as a warmed sauce for fish.
Don’t forget other cool season crops:
– Scrumptious varieties of Lettuce
– Pak Choy
– Rainbow Chard
– Broccoli Raab
– Cabbage (do not seed after mid-September; use transplants)
– Brussel Sprouts (do not seed after mid-September; use transplants)
– Spinach (sow every two or three weeks for a continuous harvest)
Interested in extending your growing season? Invest in a row cover. Row covers provide limited protection from cold temperatures and have the added benefit of protecting against many insects.
Check out these suppliers for seeds, transplants, row covers and garden supplies:
– Baker Seed Company
– Territorial Seeds
– Peaceful Valley
– Johnny’s Seeds
– Southern Exposure
– Seeds of Change
– Sow True Seed
– Seven Springs Farm
– Possum’s: Dupont Road
– Charleston Hardware: Wappoo Road
– Hyam’s Garden Center-Folly Road
– Sea Island Savory Herbs-Chisolm Road, John’s Island
– Lowe’s (Bonnie Plants)
– Wal-mart (Bonnie Plants)