Depending on where you live, it may feel like spring will never come . . . or, if you’re one of the lucky ones, spring is in full force around you. You may already be growing many of these lovely crops, and then some.
For those of us in the Midwest and other zones that do stay relatively cool until this time of year, we have to take special care to only plant what is cold-hardy. Cool season vegetables are those that do well in the cooler and shorter days of the *shoulder seasons. Some vegetables, such as kale, actually develop a nicer flavor after a frost.
*Note: I’m using the term “shoulder seasons” to refer to the seasons that sit on either side of the primary growing season of summer – spring & fall. This term is originally from the travel industry to describe the time between peak & off-peak seasons of travel, especially spring & fall, when fares tend to be lower. It may be an odd or new term to some, but I’ve heard many in the gardening/farming world use it to also refer to the time between peak & off-peak seasons of growing.
Now, let’s explore some of my top 10 favorite veggies to grow early in the season . . .
10 Cool Season Vegetables to Plant this Spring:
Greens of all kinds thrive in the cold. In fact, in most places, growing greens in the heat of summer will cause them to “bolt” (go to seed quickly) right away and thus not produce anything very harvestable.
Here are some greens to plant in spring: lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, arugula, mizuna. You can plant most of these out about 4-6 weeks before the last frost, but here in Minnesota, that would be…now. Unfortunately for us, we still have snow on the ground, so you want to wait until the soil temperature reaches about 45 degrees.
Peas are one of – if not the – first plants you can plant in the garden come spring.
Direct sow peas outside before the last frost. You can do so as soon as 4-6 weeks before the last frost, or same as with greens, when soil temp hits about 45 degrees.
Radishes are some of my favorite things to plant in spring – not only because their bright colors and penetrating flavor are a welcome change from the monotony of winter, but also because it takes them just a month from seed to harvest. These will be some of the first goodies to come out of your garden this season.
Onions are a staple in any garden. Once harvested, they can be eaten fresh and raw, aged, sautéed, grilled, as the central part of a dish or just an added flavor.
Plant onions outside a few weeks before the last frost once the ground is thawed, and you will be eating them within a couple of months depending on the variety.
Kohlrabi is a funny little plant, at least to many people. Plant this bulb outside before the last frost and it will thrive in cool temperatures. In fact, kohlrabi that mature in cooler temps are wonderfully sweet.
Interplant your carrots with radish and you’ll save space. You’ll harvest the radishes first, so once the carrots begin to fill out, they will have the space to do so. You can plant them just before the last frost and you’ll be enjoying fresh carrots from the garden (there’s nothing that compares to this flavor!) come summer.
Oh sweet (or bitter) kale. Your health benefits know no bounds. You can be planted in spring and harvested through fall & into winter. You are an amazing plant and giver of nourishment.
Seriously, friends, plant kale in the spring (after starting indoors from seed or planting as a seedling) and you can harvest its leaves (while leaving some to keep it going) throughout the season into the first frost or two. Kale’s flavor is even enhanced after a frost.
Broccoli is one of those crops that brings such reward in growing it. Unlike greens, radish, peas, and other quick-to-harvest plants, broccoli takes a lot of nurturing and time to produce its wonderful reward. But once you’ve had broccoli fresh out of the garden, you may never look back. Did you know how green it can actually be?!
If you live somewhere with a quick and unpredictable spring, you may do better growing broccoli in fall – starting the seeds in late summer and harvesting in late fall when temperatures are cool and finish the flavor of broccoli just right. If you are growing in spring, get your seeds going inside 4-6 week before you will set out, which can be just before the last frost.
Cabbage is kind of the love of my life. Okay, maybe it’s more just one of my favorite veggies. I think I tend to root for the underdog, and in the veggie world, I feel like cabbage is low on the totem pole.
This amazing vegetable is not only amazingly good for you, but also, it’s fun to grow, can be grown in both the spring and fall, stores well, and can be turned into oh-so-many dishes from salads to sauerkraut. Cabbage does well started from seed indoors and then transplanted into your garden a few weeks before the last frost. Like broccoli, its window can be short in spring, so be sure to get it going right away, and try another crop in late summer/fall as well.
Yes, you read that right. Once you get your garden going this spring, you may have some (unwelcome) friends that join your abundance.
You may not actually be intentionally planting these nourishing foods, but before you pull up every non-intentional crop in sight, consider what you look at as weeds. There are many weeds that are good for us, abundant, and quite tasty. Lamb’s quarters and stinging nettle are only a couple examples.
Did you like these photos?
All of them – except #4 (onion) & #8 (broccoli) – were taken by me. My photography website & business is Original Organics Photography. Prints and other art pieces are also available of many of these lovely veggies from my Society6 shop: