That itch to grow something good

By Lynette Walther | Mar 18, 2020
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Beets come in a range of colors and make a wonderful springtime crop.

Leap years do tend to mix things up a bit. Take spring for example.

Fun fact: In a leap year, vernal equinox will be approximately 18 hours earlier than it was the previous year. With that vernal equinox, or spring arriving today, area gardeners are ready to mix things up even more.

Many of us have already started seeds to transplant into the vegetable garden later on. And the good news is that there is a host of great cool and cold-weather varieties that can we can grow to start the season off with a bang.

Here is a listing of vegetables that not only tolerate, but thrive on cool weather. Like most vegetable varieties, all prefer full sun, well-cultivated soil that has been enriched with compost. These easy-to-grow choices are perfect to plant long before it is time to set out those tomato plants.

Beets

Take your pick of a range of colors from white to golden to red beets, or grow them all. Harvest beets while they are still small, and don’t forget the foliage on top is also good eating to use in stir fry or soups or stews. Try ‘Gourmet Beets Five Color Rainbow.’

Broccoli

Broccoli grows best in cool weather. Watch for cabbage worms that will mimic stems in looks and color. Try "Early Heading Broccoli Batavi."

Cabbage

The earlier you plant this one, the better to insure mild taste and texture. Even a light frost or two will not harm it. For something different, try "Pointed Sweetheart Cabbage Conehead."

Carrots

Spacing and light, well-cultivated soil is the key to carrot success. Sow carrots into the soil, and then thin for proper spacing. Carrots come in a range colors and a mix of three can be found in tricolor carrots "Circus Circus."

Celery

Have celery on hand whenever you need it by planting the base of that head of celery from the market. Instead of pulling the entire stalk off the bunch, cut it a inch or two from the base. When only a couple center stalk are left, put the base in water to form roots. Plant in a pot or in the ground. Or grow from seed.

Fava Beans

Get the jump start on the bean season with fava beans that prefer cool weather. These hardy beans have intriguing black and white blooms. Try "Early Fava Beans Robin Hood."

Kale

If you grow only one leafy green, make it kale. Try it in a container or in the ground, but by all means try it. Many varieties will provide a harvest that can be extended into summer. Kale comes in many varieties, with flat or ruffled leaves and including red and purple varieties and this healthy green can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in stews, soups and casseroles. Try "Purple Moon."

Lettuce

The small seeds of lettuce make it best started in flats. Transplant small seedlings into the ground spacing according to directions on seed packet. Many leaf lettuce varieties are ornamental as well and can be included into flower beds. Lettuce is also a great container plant. Try "Cut and Come Again Lettuces Renee's Baby Leaf Blend."

Bak Choi

Also known as Chinese cabbage, the mini varieties produce dense, fully-formed heads that are five to seven-inches tall. Try them in stir fries or braised. The new All-America Selection "Asian Delight" can be harvested in 24 to 40 days from transplanting.

Peas

With a harvest goal of July 4, sweet peas, snow and snap peas are a good choice for small spaces because the vines are grown vertically. Container varieties accommodate even smaller spaces. "Snak Hero" is a new All-America Selection winner with four-inch long pods that look like green beans, but have the taste and texture of a snap pea.

Radishes

Quick growing radishes are one of the most satisfying vegetables to grow, easy to sow and harvest. The peppery tang of radishes and their bright color can perk up any salad or try them sliced thin and pickled for a tasty garnish. Rich, well-cultivated soil is important for optimum growth and quality. "Bacchus" produces small, round purple radishes.

Spinach

Whether you like it fresh and raw in salads, sandwiches and dishes or cooked, spinach is one of the most cold-tolerant salad greens. Some varieties boast the ability to carry the harvest into the summer with mild taste and texture. "Long-Standing Spinach Summer Perfection" is one that extends the harvest.

Swiss Chard

A rainbow of colors makes this vegetable an ornamental favorite. Both the stalks and the foliage are edible to use in a variety of cooked dishes. "Oriole," an orange-stalk variety and "Fordhook Giant," white-stalked variety with robust crinkly green foliage, would look when smashing grown together.

Turnips

This might be the year you try something different and that might just be turnips. Remember that both the bulb-like root and the top greens of turnips are edible. Harvest turnips before temperatures turn warm to keep them from turning bitter. For container culture, try the smaller "Japanese Baby Turnips Mikado."

Seed sources: Renee’s Garden Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Goldsmith Seeds.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

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