Our Georgia climate makes it possible to grow food throughout the year. To make this plan work, we need to grow the right food plants for the season.
What are cool season vegetables?
As the name implies, cool season vegetables grow in the cooler months of the year, from fall through the early spring. The seeds germinate when the soil temperature is cooler, and many cool season veggies can survive frost and light freezes.
Cool season vegetables include leafy greens such as spinach, collards, kale and lettuce; head-forming veggies like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower; and root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips and radishes. English peas and peas with edible pods also grow best in early spring.
For the most part, if we can grow a vegetable in early spring, we can also grow it in the fall. Spring planting dates for cool season veggies range from mid-January through early April. Fall planting dates run from Aug. 1 to mid-September. The planting window depends on your location in the state, the type of vegetable you’re planting, its frost and freeze tolerance, and the number of days to maturity after planting.
Cool season veggies to plant as seeds now
Many cool season vegetables grow best when planted as seeds directly into the garden, raised bed or patio container. Root vegetables should always be planted from seed; transferring seedlings from a nursery container can cause the harvested part — the roots — to grow twisted, bent or malformed.
Spinach and radishes mature very quickly. Depending on variety, you’ll have ready to harvest food in less than a month. Leaf lettuce will mature in a little over a month, while beets, carrots, and collards require two-plus months of growth. The leafy greens of beets, carrots, radishes and turnips are also edible. Cook beet and turnip greens before eating. Sautéed radish greens are a good addition to stir-fry and egg dishes, and carrot greens make a good substitute for parsley.
Planting, growing, harvesting cool season vegetables
Whether you’re planting seeds in the garden, a raised bed, or a container, make sure your soil is loose, light and moist. When seeds germinate, they grow in two directions. Roots push down through the soil, and the shoot system pushes up to reach sunlight. If you have heavy clay soil, work in composted organic matter to improve soil structure and drainage.
As a general rule, plant seeds 1.5 times as deep as the size of the seed. Lettuce is an exception; these seeds need light to germinate. Just sprinkle the seeds on the soil surface and gently press them in.
Keep the soil moist until the seedlings pop up. At that point, reduce watering frequency to allow the soil surface to dry. Plant stems will rot if the soil around them is constantly wet.
To keep your plants healthy and vigorous, thin seedlings to provide the recommended spacing between them so they have ample room to reach their mature size without crowding. Pull weeds immediately and scout the garden daily for signs of pests.
To best enjoy your home-grown food, harvest the outer leaves of greens while they are still young and tender, and let inner leaves continue growing for your next meal. Harvest root vegetables at maturity.
Heather N. Kolich is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for the UGA Extension Forsyth County.
Forsyth County Extension Welcomes Shannon Kennedy
This week Shannon Kennedy joined the Extension’s staff as the new horticulture educator. Shannon graduated from UGA last May with a bachelor’s degree in environmental resource science and spent six months working in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as an AmeriCorps intern. Shannon loves urban gardening and applying sustainability practices to everyday spaces. She looks forward to helping her Forsyth County neighbors with home horticulture and school and community gardening.