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The Spring Garden: Extend Your Growing Season with Early, Cold-Hardy Varieties

By Homesteading Mom / February 27, 2012

It’s a Monday morning at the end of February. It’s cold New England morning. And yes, I’m getting ready to plant seeds.

While most people think of gardening as a spring and summertime activity, there are many lovely edibles that prefer cooler weather. The key ingredient here is sunlight. Even though temperatures are still cold outside, the days are now measurably longer with more available hours of sunlight. With just a little extra protection in case of frost, you can get your garden off to an early start with cold tolerant veggies.

A little help goes a long way
Even cold-tolerant plants need a little help occasionally. Cold frames, hoop houses, and small green houses are all great options for giving your cold-tolerant plants a little help with they need it. When you are transitioning a plant that you started inside to your garden outside, a little help from a cold frame goes a long way to acclimating the plant to its new environment, a little at a time.  If there is a late season frost coming, cold frames, row covers, and small hoop houses can provide cool weather loving plants a respite from an isolated cold snap. (More to come later this week on cold frames and green houses.)

Choose the right varieties

There are many plants that are happy in cooler temperatures. Generally, these tend to be green, leafy vegetables. There are some that have varieties that do better in cooler weather, and others in warmer weather. For example, I have several varieties of  lettuce. While lettuce generally prefers cooler temperatures, a couple of varieties do well during the warmer months. Just check your seed packet, or the catalog it came from (seed catalogs are a wealth of knowledge), if you have any questions.

In general, the following plants are great choices for early, spring gardens:

  • Arugula– bitter salad green, very cold hardy
  • Beet– both root and greens are edible, leaves are ready earlier
  • Broccoli– a favorite cool weather veggie for many people
  • Brussel Sprouts– very cold hardy
  • Cabbage– many cold hard varieties, and so many uses
  • Carrot– cold weather brings out their sweetness
  • Celeriac– great for soups
  • Celery– until you taste your own celery, you just don’t know how tasty celery really is
  • Claytonia– heart-shaped green, one of the most cold-hardy greens, can harvest continually
  • Green Onion– aka scallions, a great way to get onion flavor in a hurry, freezes and dehydrates well
  • Kale– cold-hardy, can produce all year with some cover in the winter, one of the healthiest greens
  • Leek– delicious onion-flavored green, great for soups
  • Lettuce– loves cool weather, and has many tasty varieties
  • Mache– extremely cold hardy salad green, aka “corn salad”
  • Onion– widely loved in so many foods
  • Parsley– cold-tolerant herb, many uses
  • Parsnip– tastes like a combination of potato and celery with some sweetness
  • Peas– prefers cool weather, needs to be trellised
  • Radicchio– a semi-bitter leafy veggie that is crunchy in salads
  • Radish– ready to harvest quickly, cold tolerant
  • Swiss Chard– with some protection in the winter, chard can produce in your garden year round
  • Spinach– loves cool weather
  • Turnip– goes great with carrots

What am I growing this spring?
Well, I’m not growing everything on that list. I don’t have that kind of space here. Here is a list of what I am growing, and the specific varieties:

  • Beets (Bull’s Blood, Cylindra)
  • Broccoli (Early Purple Sprouting)
  • Cabbage (Glory of Enkhuizen)
  • Carrot (Tonda Di Parigi)
  • Celery (Tendercrisp)
  • Green onion ( Evergreen Hardy White Scallion)
  • Kale (Siberian Kale, Red Russian, Green Curled Scotch)
  • Onion (Stuttgarter)
  • Peas (Mammoth Melting Snow Peas)
  • Parsley (Giant of Italy)
  • Swiss Chard (Golden, Ruby Red)

I am also starting some tomatoes indoors. Typically, tomatoes love the heat. Two of the five varieties that I am starting now, Sub-Arctic Plenty and North Dakota Earliana, can go out sooner because they are especially cold-hardy, which make them good choices to start now.

Hopefully, this gave you a little inspiration to get outside, start prepping a garden bed, get some seeds planted, or make those last minute seed orders!  If you still need to order seeds, please check out the Resources Page for recommended seed companies. Please leave your comments and your own tips to share with others in the comment box below!

About the author

Homesteading Mom

Homesteading Mom is run by Cat Ellis, an herbalist, prepper and aspiring homesteader. Cat is the author of two books, Prepper's Natural Medicine and Prepping for a Pandemic. Cat Ellis also blogs at KetoCat.com, HerbalPrepper.com, and TheOrganicPrepper.com.


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