Cool Season Vegetables

Vegetables to Plant in Early Spring and Fall

Broccoli by Midwest Gardening.jpg

One of the things important in planning your vegetable garden is harvest time.  So many vegetables prefer the warm soil and heat of summer, it is nice to get some crops in early that tolerate, and often prefer, the cooler soil and air temperatures of spring.  Some of these early vegetables will give you an early harvest while you wait for your tomatoes, some just need to start early to harvest before late summer heat withers them.  Cool season vegetables will taste best if they mature in cooler weather.  So if your season is long enough you can plan for a spring and a fall harvest of cool season vegetables. 

Cool season crops can be planted among or at the perimeter of your garden beds.  Most of the crops will be harvested before your tomato and pepper plants grow large enough to overtake them, so you don’t have to reserve a lot of space in your garden for early and late season vegetables.


So easy to grow, and so many varieties to pick from, get a huge head start by planting pea seeds weeks before the average last frost date.  They don’t mind the cold soil a bit and will germinate quickly in moist soil.


Loose leaf lettuce are the easiest to grow and they prefer the cooler weather of spring and fall.  Most mature quickly so you can plant one small crop after another to produce a regular harvest, starting the first seeds weeks before the average last frost date.


Spinach can be a bit more difficult to grow than a loose leaf lettuce, but with the right variety mine produces even better than the lettuce.  You will need a light, loose, nutrient rich soil.  Plant seeds a few weeks before the average last frost date, barely covered with soil.  


Kale can be planted very early and will not be bothered by frosts.  Plant as much as 5 weeks before the last frost date.  Fertile soil will encourage quick growth of tender leaves.


There is a cabbage for every harvest season.  Find an early variety to plant a couple of weeks before the last frost date.  Or direct sow immediately after the last frost date.


Broccoli is pretty easy to grow and does love cool spring weather.  Seed will germinate in about a week if the soil is warm, or start you seeds indoors and plant out as much as a month before the last frost date.  You can also plant a fall crop late in summer, but try to select a fast maturing variety of about 55-60 days.


Beets are grown and harvested very early in cool weather to produce the best tasting tender beets.  Once the season heats up they tend to become woody and bitter.    Plant seeds 3 to 4 weeks before the average last frost date.  And don’t thin overplanted rows, harvest beet greens for salads to thin the rows.  Allow the well spaced plants to mature and harvest in about 55-60 days. 


Carrots are a little fussy about their growing conditions, but with not a lot growing early in spring you can give them a bit of attention.  Plant the seeds 4 weeks before the average last frost date, they are going to take a while to germinate.  You might also want to over sow and thin the rows later if you get enough seeds to germinate.  Soil should be light and loosened deeply.  If you keep the soil nice and cool with plenty of mulch, later crops of carrots can be sweetened up in the ground well into fall.

Vegetables to Plant Again in Fall

The hardiest, most frost tolerant of the cool season vegetables are good choices for fall crops.  If frost comes early they will not be damaged and will continue growing after the first hard frost.  The soil is good and warm when you plant fall crops, so direct seeding is quick and economical.  Sow seeds in August or plant seedlings into the garden in September, but protect them from hot afternoon sun.  Most of these crops will take about 60 days to mature.

Broccoli will tolerate hard frost.  Seed will germinate in about a week in warm soil.  Look for fast maturing varieties to harvest in 55-60 days.

Cabbage as noted in the early spring crops, certain cabbage are very well suited to spring , some better suited to fall.

Kale will tolerate hard frost but do cover if the cold is severe or prolonged.

Kohlrabi and Turnip tolerate hard frost and produce sweet flavor in cool weather.

Leeks tolerate hard frost

Spinach - Most spinach varieties will tolerate a hard frost.

Any cool season vegetable can be planted in spring or fall.  Most of us tend toward fast maturing leafy edibles in spring and root vegetables that are protected from hard frost and even freezes long into fall.  In the North the whole growing season is so short the heat lovers are going in the ground barely sandwiched between the cool season vegetables.  If you are lucky enough to have a long growing season, enjoy and prolong it with spring and fall crops.

Sharon DwyerComment