Growing Cool-season Veggies

By Anica Wong

July 2, 2012 4 min read

Fall and winter are usually known for scarves, soups and snowmen. But what if these seasons could be synonymous with cabbage, crops and kale?

For the majority of gardeners, spring planting and summer harvest is a typical schedule for their vegetable beds. And while for most of the United States this schedule is the only time that Mother Nature lets things grow, that's not the case for every locale.

Dan Gill is a consumer horticulturist with Louisiana State University AgCenter. He grows crops year-round because of the temperate climate of the Deep South. This area of the country, along with all of California and the coasts of Oregon and Washington, have mild winters that allow hardy crops to grow throughout the cooler months.

According to the Plant Hardiness Zone Map, published by the United States Department of Agriculture, areas that can usually sustain fall and winter crops have a zone rating in the 8s and 9s. (Think of Alaska as being in Zone 1 and Hawaii as being in Zone 10.)

But even though the Department of Agriculture publishes maps detailing what areas of the country have winter temperatures friendly enough for winter veggies, this type of growing is not as common as you'd think.

"Even here in the Deep South, where gardening through the entire winter is possible, there is still this tendency for gardeners to planet in the spring and harvest in the summer," says Gill. "I think it's because there is a history of doing it that way."

Any information about growing veggies in the fall and winter months only pertains to the areas that are located in the hardiness zones that support this type of growing. Before planting anything, whether it's vegetables or flowers, check with your local extension agent to make sure that the crops you have chosen will survive the winter. These offices can also give you much more information specific to your certain area, including the timing of planting.

According to Gill, you should plan to plant in late summer, even into September, for fall production of your veggies. There are two different types of crops that work well in this growing season: cole crops and leafy crops. Cole crops include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and early cabbage. The leafy kind includes leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale and bok choy, among others. Carrots and radishes can also be grown during this time. And if you plant early enough (and if the freeze holds off until late November or December), peppers, tomatoes and snap peas can also make an appearance in your garden.

All of these types of crops can survive a little bit of frost, while others can handle a harder freeze. If you transplant any seedlings into your beds, make sure to cover them with a sheet on nights when the temperatures dip down a little low. Some people even say that a slight frost makes the veggies taste better.

One of the best parts of growing vegetables in the off-season is that there aren't very many differences from the regular growing season.

"You prepare the beds the same, fertilize the same and mulch the same," says Gill.

Planting in cooler temperatures is often much more pleasant for the gardener; you don't have to sweat over the beds under the burning summer sun and insect and disease issues are diminished.

"Plus, we grow completely different crops at different times of the year. Some of those delicious and nutritious veggies can only be grown in the cool garden," Gill points out.

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