Gardening Vegetables

Ten Cool Season Vegetables

A wide variety of vegetables lend themselves to early spring planting because they do well or are tolerant of cooler weather.

Because weather varies so much—areas can experience an “early” or “late” spring—it is unwise to put an exact starting date on when to sow. A rule of thumb is when the ground is no longer frozen and can be worked, and when nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing. This could mean as early as January in very mild areas or as late as May in more northern ones.

  1. English peas or snap peas are good to start early. Snap peas have edible pods that are crunchy and tasty.
  2. Snow peas are another class—these are great in stir-fry dishes or for eating fresh.
  3. Lettuces and other leafy greens, such as mesclun and arugula, are great for salads or as pizza toppings.
  4. Spinach loves cooler temperatures and will mature in about 40 days.
  5. Beets are another early starter. Try one of the new shapes or colors for a healthy crunch that can mature in about 50 days.
  6. BroccoliBrussels sprouts and cabbage are all cole crops or brassicas. For these crops, it is often best to purchase bedding plants and transplant them to the garden. They will mature more quickly than starting from seed, and the theory is that they will mature before the summer heat causes them to bolt (go to seed).
  7. Carrots mature in about 70 days and can be harvested when small for flavor and color. Sowing the seed thinly, to begin with, will mean less thinning later.
  8. Swiss chard adds color to the garden and any recipe you use it in; plus it is highly nutritious.
  9. Radishes can be sweet or hot, they provide color in salads and cooking, and they are a relatively fast crop. Early harvesting yields smaller radishes, but with a more subtle flavor preferred by many cooks.
  10. Sow Pak Choi 4–5 weeks before the last frost. It can be harvested early for baby greens or wait until it just forms a heart and use in stir-fries.

Helpful Hint: When sowing extra early. always keep a sheet of floating row cover (frost blanket) on hand in case temperatures suddenly take a dip into the deep freeze. Just cover the seed bed and young plants and use pegs, bricks, rocks or soil to hold the cover in place. Remove when temperatures warm up again.


Article and photos adapted from a press release by the National Garden Bureau.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “Ten Cool Season Vegetables

  1. ? Of course, our seasons on the West Coast of California are very different. We grow cool season crops too, but from autumn to spring. (The Salinas Valley is not too far from here.) #6 is exclusive to that time. However, there are some similarities. The root vegetables, although happy through winter, are more productive if started late in summer for autumn, or late in winter for spring. Obviously, they grow better with a bit of warmth, but do not like it too warm and arid. When I lived in town, I grew chard for the pretty red foliage through winter, but that which did not get cut by spring lasted for a long time before bolting. But yes, away from the most coastal climates, the lettuces and peas, weirdly, perform best in autumn and winter. I still can not figure that out, or how some people can grow them so well here. They do not grow well through winter, but want to finish before the dry warmth of summer. For us, the summer is more limiting than the winter is, but the in between times are similarly the best.

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