Tomorrow, September 22, marks the first day of autumn. As I discussed in last week’s article, fall is the best time of year to plant because winter rains and cooler temperatures will help your plants get a healthy, developed root system and be ready to burst into growth in spring.
It’s also a good time to try planting vegetables if you haven’t done so before. Cool-season crops are some of the easiest to grow, and even if you live in a cold climate, you can still have a fall harvest until the first frost arrives. For those who live in warmer climates, you can plant a garden for winter harvest.
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. These vegetables are broken into three categories: the cole crops (broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower), the root crops (beet, carrot, radish, and turnips), and the leaf crops (cabbage, celery, lettuce, and spinach).
While many gardeners start their vegetable seeds in late August, these crops are easily planted from seedlings purchased at a local nursery. Cole crops are the vegetables best bought at nurseries and transplanted because they are big and slow growing.
The easiest way to start your vegetable garden is to make a list of the vegetables you really like and plant something from that list, checking to see which season it should be planted in.
No matter what you choose to plant, cool season vegetables require a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day for best growth. It’s 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. Leaf lettuces don’t 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. That’s why they are also called cutting lettuces. One great home variety is Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, which is a tasty and old-fashioned lettuce.
While one of the advantages to planting cool-season crops is that you don’t 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, or a homemade solution to deter their entrance. Cole crops are prone to cabbageworms; use Safer Vegetable Attack, or your own pest control method, and reapply often.