Start Your Gardening with Cool-Season Crops

HOLLY NOTE: This is a great time to get your garden started if you haven't already begun. Because we grow our veggies using non-hybrids, plants that self-seeded like lettuce and spinach grew right through the snow and have a big head start. They should be ready for first harvesting in 10 days and they did all the work! Onions planted last fall are already up 3". Ditto for garlic and chives. On today's agenda, the next succession planting of carrots, beans, peas and radishes.

TIP: If you plant your garden using Super Soil, there's never any rototilling needed or soil amendments to add.

March 27, 2010
The Coloradoan

Have you been recently bitten by the gardening bug?

Though spring has officially arrived, snow still might fly or land with a bit of a thud as a heavy and wet spring snow. Warm and sunny days beckon the veggie gardener outdoors. A first task is to check the soil to see if it is ready for planting seeds.

You can begin planting cool-season crops as soon as the soil can be worked. Cool-season crops are those that grow at lower temperatures of spring and autumn and are not injured by light frost. Cool-season crops prefer mild temperatures for growing and will generally perform poorly during periods of extended hot temperatures. In summer's heat, lettuce and other leafy greens may bolt and produce flowers, resulting in bitter foliage. Peas cease to produce pods.

Examples of cool-season crops not injured by light frost include asparagus, fava/broad beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, parsnips, peas, radishes, rhubarb and spinach. In considering what to plant and when to plant your cool-season vegetables, it is useful to first identify which crops will be directly seeded into your garden and which will be transplanted as seedlings.

The seeds of peas, radishes, spinach and lettuces will germinate in cool soil temperatures. They may be slow and erratic in their germination if soil temperatures remain consistently chilly. The seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi prefer a warmer soil temperature to germinate. To get that early season jump on these veggies, transplants are more successful than seeding.

Among avid gardeners, the adage to "plant your peas on St. Patrick's Day" is often not possible with the vagaries of our springtime weather. In the Fort Collins area, the window for planting cool-season crops extends from mid-March through April. Begin your growing season by removing any plant debris from the previous year. Turn the soil with a digging fork or use a rototiller, adding any amendments needed to enhance your productivity.

Often, hand turning the soil may be successfully done when the soil is still be too wet for a rototiller. Rake smooth and level the area to be planted. If you have already made a planting plan for your garden, indicating the locations for your different crops, you may turn the soil only in those areas designated for the cool-season crops while waiting for the remainder of your garden to dry.

Knowing snow was forecasted this week, it was a great time to work through all the soil and bed preparations and begin planting. In the Garden of Eatin' at the Gardens on Spring Creek, we were able to tuck pea seeds into the sun-warmed soil just before the snow blanketed the ground. The peas will have the advantage of all the tremendous moisture from that wet snow. A new growing season has begun with cool-season crops.

Mary Miller has been passionately growing food for years in this area. She is the community garden and outreach coordinator at the Gardens on Spring Creek, 2145 Centre Ave., Fort Collins.