3 Cold Weather Crops You should Take a Chance on - gardenstead Skip to content

3 Cold Weather Crops You should Take a Chance on

It’s never too late to start a garden. It might not look like your summer garden, but there are plenty of cold hearty crops you can continue to grow throughout the fall and winter.

lettuce head photo by Craig Dimmick via unsplash
Photo by Craig Dimmick via unsplash

Who says gardening season is over? If that’s true, someone forgot to tell my garden. The temperature has dropped and the days have gotten shorter, but there’s a lot of green, and purple, in my garden and there can be in yours too. You don’t have to wait until spring to start a garden. You can start it any time and there’s no time like the present. So what are you waiting for?

If you’re looking for answers, you’ve come to the right spot. I love the challenge of offseason gardening. Everytime I step foot into the garden, I am amazed to see new growth and to continue to harvest crops. Whomever decided the growing season ends when the cold weather sets in, probably didn’t know which crops liked the cool weather. Here are a few to consider growing now.

Lettuce

While most of us think of lettuce in summer salads, lettuce is actually a cool weather crop. If you’ve tried to grow it in the heat of the summer, it probably had a short life span and bolted quickly. The best time to plant lettuce is in the fall and early spring. Lettuce does not like hot summer days. Planting it now is a great idea. Lettuce is one of the quickest growing plants and can go from seed to harvest in as little as 30 days.

Leaf lettuce is one of the most popular types of lettuce to grow, and what I personally prefer. Leaf lettuce is lettuce that does not form a single head such as iceberg. Instead, it produces many leaves. I like leaf lettuce because it can give you a continuous harvest whereas head lettuce is only one harvest. The term “cut and come again” is often used when describing harvesting leaf lettuce. You can of course harvest the entire plant at once if you want to, but the cut and come again method will allow multiple harvests. To cut and come again you simply harvest a few leaves at a time, leaving the central section to continue to produce more leaves. I currently have Romaine and Prizeleaf lettuce growing. Soon I’ll start Tom Thumb and Bronze Beauty as I use succession planting to ensure a continuous harvest.

You can directly sow lettuce seeds in the ground, a raised bed or in a container. Plant them just under the soil, barely covering them and then water lightly so as not to wash away the seeds. Then you’ll want to add mulch, such as straw, to help insulate the plant as it grows. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked as the seeds start to germinate. You can add compost at the time of planting to put organic matter into the soil and you can also fertilize with a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion once a week. Lettuce can survive in temperatures down to 30°F (-1°C). If a hard freeze is imminent, cover the lettuce with a frost blanket. This will help to further protect the lettuce.

Cabbage
Cabbage Growing in a pot

I am very excited about growing cabbage in this cool weather. Many gardeners plant cabbage in the spring for a summer harvest, but you might be surprised to learn that it does much better in the cold. It will taste better after a frost in particular. I have 36 cabbage growing at the moment. I don’t plan on eating all of them. Instead, I’ll be passing part of the harvest on to friends. Since I have the space, I wanted to take the time and opportunity to experiment with different ways of growing cabbage. Many of them are directly in the ground, but some are in various sized pots and in raised beds. Some of them have been covered by garden fabric to test if it really keeps out cabbage worms but most of them have been left uncovered. It’s amazing to see how they are growing in their different environments.

You can grow cabbage too. There are many different varieties of cabbage, so make sure to choose one that will overwinter well. These are usually savoy types, which are a mini type of cabbage. They have beautiful green-blue crinkly leaves. Savoy types of lettuce such as January King have a more mild taste compared to the big traditional varieties. They can also handle hard frosts uncovered and a hard freeze if covered.

Leaf lettuce is one of the most popular types of lettuce to grow, and what I personally prefer. Leaf lettuce is lettuce that does not form a single head such as iceberg. Instead, it produces many leaves. I like leaf lettuce because it can give you a continuous harvest whereas head lettuce is only one harvest. The term “cut and come again” is often used when describing harvesting leaf lettuce. You can of course harvest the entire plant at once if you want to, but the cut and come again method will allow multiple harvests. To cut and come again you simply harvest a few leaves at a time, leaving the central section to continue to produce more leaves. I currently have Romaine and Prizeleaf lettuce growing. Soon I’ll start Tom Thumb and Bronze Beauty as I use succession planting to ensure a continuous harvest.

Carrots
Carrots and lettuce growing

Carrots are another great cold hearty vegetable. They produce their own protection against freeze damage. When temperatures dip down low in the fall and winter, sugar accumulation is triggered. This protects the roots from the damage a freeze can cause. You’ll notice the green tops of the carrots also hold up pretty well. They can handle temperatures down to 18°F (-8°C). Don’t worry, the roots can handle much colder temperatures. It’s still a good idea to mulch with something such as straw and you can even use garden fabric with hoops to cover the carrots. You can also grow carrots in plastic tunnels if your temperature is much lower.

I grow carrots year round. Carrots need loose soil for the roots to grow strong. It’s mostly clay here so the inground garden has needed a good amount of amending. If you don’t have the time or ability to amend your soil, you can grow carrots in a raised bed or in containers. I’ve found that they grow much better in those environments as opposed to directly in the ground here.

Carrots can take between 55 days and 70 days to reach maturity. Smaller varieties do better in the cold weather. These are varieties such as Manicor, which is ready in 55 days. If you live in an area where temperatures hover in the freezing range, covering the carrots with garden fabric.

These are just three of my favorite cold weather crops to grow. Your garden could also include spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, leeks, collards, kayle, parsnips and turnips to name a few.

What cold weather crops do you like to grow?

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