Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Plants for a late Spring: Finding the Right Crops for your Cool-Weather Garden

Tiny pepper sprouts will have to wait to be planted outside.

Here in Wisconsin, we've been experiencing a woefully late Spring. But the fear of a April or May frost need not keep gardeners indoors -- plenty of plants love the cool spring weather, and even thrive when the temperature dips unexpectedly.

So for those eager to get outside and start digging, here are a few hardy vegetables that you can plant early without fear.

This baby kale plant has begun to develop a rich gradient from lush green to deep purple.


With its renowned antioxidant properties, varied colors, and great versatility in the kitchen, kale is easily one of my favorite vegetables to grow. Though it can thrive all summer, kale's rich, nutty flavor actually sweetens with a frost, making it a perfect choice for spring and fall gardens.

Pea vines can be added to a springtime salad for a sweet change of pace.

Who doesn't love snacking on peas right off the vine? Crisp and refreshing, peas also handle the cooler temperatures with ease. Depending on the variety, they can be grown low to the ground or on a pole or trellis - perfect for apartment-dwellers who might be short on space. The best part? Many varieties can be ready for harvest in 60 days or fewer.

Originally evolving from cabbage, another great cold-weather crop, broccoli can happily withstand a little frost. In fact, it should be planted about a month before the last frost (in Wisconsin, our average last frost is May 10). With its excellent nutritional value, including helping in the prevention of cancer and heart disease, broccoli is a smart and tasty way to start your garden early.

As an onion grows, it sends up one shoot for each layer of the bulb.

Though onions prefer soil temperatures around 50 degrees and higher, they can survive with soil temperatures down to 36 degrees. Many varieties need long hours of daylight to produce bulbs, so be sure to place them in a sunny spot. Whenever you're ready, you can eat them as spring onions, or wait until they've matured to slice 'em up.

Of course, these are just the beginning. What other cool-weather crops round out your springtime garden?

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