As I have written about before, many gardeners believe that fall is the best time of year to plant because winter rains and cooler temperatures help plants get a healthy, established root system easier than the longer and hotter days of summer.
Itís also a good time to try planting vegetables if you havenít done so before because cool season crops are some of the easiest to grow.
What is a cool season vegetable? Cool season versus warm season refers to the heat requirements needed for growth. This means that cool season vegetables are those that do well in fall, winter, and early spring rather than summer.
Cool season vegetables can be grown in temperatures about 10-15 degrees lower than warm season crops. The most distinct difference is that cool season crops are usually not grown for their fruits or seeds, but are mainly leaf or root crops with a few exceptions like broccoli and cauliflower that are grown for their edible flowers.
Cool season vegetables include asparagus, artichoke, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip. Of these, the Cole crops are broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower; the root crops are beet, carrot, radish, and turnips, and the leaf crops are cabbage, celery, lettuce, and spinach.
Even if you live in a colder climate, you can still have a fall harvest until the first frost arrives. Typically, these are areas with a relatively low elevation and winter temperatures ranging from 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with only a few cold outbreaks below freezing. If you live in such an area, you can take steps to protect your plants.
This includes buying more frost-tolerant crops that can tolerate cold soil and occasional frosts, including broccoli, cauliflower, peas, root crops like beets, carrots, onions, radishes and turnips; leafy crops like kale, lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard. But remember a hard frost will kill seedlings.
And, you can still plant some of these crops using homemade mini-greenhouses or cloches to protect them from cold air and winds and extend the fall season.
A cloche is traditionally a bell-shaped or dome-shaped, transparent cover used to protect plants from frost that can be put over individual plants or are used as row covers or tunnels. The cloche keeps solar radiation and moisture in and are usually lightweight and removable.
Anything can be a mini greenhouse/cloche, from plastic soda bottles to milk cartons. They work best if you make sure they can be kept on tightly at night to protect from frost and then opened or removed during the day to allow for aeration, and are anchored down so they donít blow away.
Another simple, inexpensive way to help prevent frost from harming plants is to use a row cover. Just as you can do in the summer with bird netting or fabric, you can use PVC pipe bent over the garden row and covered with fabric, just make sure to anchor the fabric down.
For those who live in warmer climates, you can also have a garden for winter harvest. Many southern and western areas are actually better suited to cool season or winter crops.
No matter what you choose to plant, cool season vegetables need a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day for best growth. Itís also a good idea to try and choose a location that offers some wind protection.
Leafy greens are the easiest cool-season crops to grow. This includes all types of lettuce, especially leaf lettuces.† You might want to do successive plantings so your crop is spread out.
One great home variety is Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, which is a tasty and old-fashioned lettuce. Leaf lettuces donít require you to wait for them to mature because you cut the leaves as you need them and most are fully grown in less than two months. Thatís why they are also called cutting lettuces.
While one of the advantages to planting cool season crops is that you donít have as many insects or diseases as in summer, cool season vegetables are prone to slugs and snails, particularly in areas with fog and ocean moisture. You can use an organic snail bait like Sluggo. Cole crops are prone to cabbageworms, use Safer Vegetable Attack, and reapply often.