Winter’s potential: No off-season for gardeners
If you think vegetable gardening doesn’t start until April, then you’re missing out on one of the most productive parts of the season, and some of the tastiest garden treats. Adding cool-season crops to the routine could literally double production and greatly extend the harvest season. Here are some options.
Cabbage can be planted from early February through early April. I would suggest planting transplants, if you can find them, to speed up production. Perhaps cabbage is not the most exciting vegetable for the table, but it is gaining respect for its high nutrition level.
The biggest challenge with cabbage will be worms (a.k.a. caterpillars) that eat the leaves. They are tiny and difficult to see when they first hatch, so close and regular inspections are critical. Hand-removal is viable for a few plants in a raised bed, or spray with one of the Bacillus thuringiensis products (which, by the way, are natural and low toxicity).
Carrots may be sown anytime in February or March. They require loose deep soil to properly grow. They don’t transplant well, so you have to plant the seeds right in the garden. Be patient as they can be slow to germinate. Be sure to thin (about 2 inches between plants) or you’ll have a bunch of skinny, useless carrots!
Plant broccoli and cauliflower from mid-February through early April. Fair warning, once you taste garden-raised broccoli, you will never feel the same about the store-bought version. As with cabbage, I prefer to plant transplants. That being said, you could plant one row of transplants and a second row of seeds to try and spread out the harvest (the seed-planted row, of course, will take longer to produce). As with cabbage, worms are the most worrisome pest, and are managed in the same fashion.
Collards may traditionally be considered a fall crop, but a spring harvest is also possible. Choose one of the quicker maturing (e.g. 60 day) varieties and plant starting mid-February. Yes, the worms like this crop as well.
Kale and kohlrabi are definite options, and add something unique to your garden and table. Plant seeds or transplants beginning mid-February. Harvest about 50 days later.
Sow salad greens and leaf lettuce in February, March or April (or plant a little each month for an extended harvest!). I’ve had great success with the “mixed-greens” seed packs. Watch for aphids, and treat with insecticidal soap if needed.
Peas can be planted on New Year’s Day, or as late as early March. Sow from seed and be prepared to install some type of climbing trellis. Pest problems are uncommon.
Plant Irish potatoes now through March. Harvest in about 100 days, and inspect frequently for Colorado potato beetles. These orange and brown insects are resistant to many insecticides, so hand-removal may be the best option in a small garden. For larger plantings, call us at the County Extension Center to review pesticide options.
Radishes, rutabagas and turnips round out the root-crop options. Perhaps these aren’t family favorites, but their nutritional content alone makes them worthy of consideration. All are seed planted, February and March being appropriate times.
Add a couple of cool-season herbs (e.g. dill and cilantro) and your early garden will be the envy of the neighborhood!