Many American gardeners cling fast to the idea that the growing season doesn't begin until Memorial Day weekend. Yet in Europe gardeners use a variety of methods to extend their season and increase their garden's harvest. Thanks to Elliot Coleman's book Four Season Harvest, more and more Americans are discovering the possibilities. Even in Maine you can get a jump on the gardening season through the use of row-covers and mini hoop-houses. And there are lots of crops that will not only grow in cooler temperatures, but some actually prefer it.
Here are 23 cold-tolerant crops that you can sow early this growing season:
- Lettuce - nothing beats fresh homegrown lettuce, and there are so many varieties to choose from!
- Salad mix - a good mix of leaf lettuces is mandatory in our gardens; I've been using Rocky Top salad mix from Baker Creek's Heirloom Seeds for the last two years. The mix offers a diverse array of colors and flavors, and is easy to grow.
- Spinach - an essential spring crop in our house. Johnny's Seeds offers quick-growing varieties and heat-tolerant varieties that will help you optimize the your harvest.
- Mache - this is a nutritious salad green was once foraged in Europe before it became a cultivated vegetable.
- Endive - rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially in folate and vitamins A and K, and is high in fiber.
- Escarole - with leaves that are broader, paler and less bitter than other members of the endive family, escarole might be a good choice for families with young children who have "discerning palettes" (aka: picky eaters).
- Arugula - these dark green, peppery leaves are good raw in a salad, or cooked like spinach. Also known as "Salad Rocket", arugula is a rich source of vitamin C and potassium.
- Oriental greens - add variety to your diet with asian greens like tatsoi, pak choi, chinese cabbage, mizuna, and bok choy.
- Mustard - intensely flavored greens that come in a variety of colors, shapes, and degrees of spiciness.
- Broccoli - plant in early spring and again in late summer for a fall harvest.
- Collards - related to broccoli and cabbage, these greens possess high levels of vitamins C and K, and are a great source of soluble fiber.
- Kale - because of it's ability to withstand temperatures as low as 10-degrees, this vegetable is popular in many gardens in the northern hemisphere. What's more, the flavor of the leaves imrpoves and becomes sweeter following a frost.
- Kohlrabi - is a german turnip that tastes similar to cabbage hearts, but is milder and sweeter.
- Globe artichokes - a gourmet delight that is easy to grow, perennial, and makes a great display.
- Peas - there are several varieties of peas, from shelling peas to snow peas, and all of them prefer the cooler temperatures of early spring.
- Onions - researchers in Oregon say that the earlier you get your onions started in the spring, the more chance they will have of growing into full-sized bulbs. Check out this article from the Oregon State University Extension Service for more information.
- Leeks - with a mild onion flavor, this vegetable resembles overgrown green onions, and can be eaten raw, braised, or in soups and casseroles. Leeks are easy to grow, but for some helpful tips see this resource from the University of Minnesota's Extension.
- Shallots - much like garlic, shallots are formed in clusters, with a head of multiple cloves. Used in fresh cooking, or in pickles, and often as a condiment in Asian cuisine.
- Parsnips - plant around the same time as you're planting your peas and radishes, then wait to harvest until after a hard frost for sweeter roots.
- Carrots - plant carrots as soon as the threat of frost is past, but take care to protect the seeds from the rains of spring, it's easy for them to be washed away.
- Beets - nothing compares to tender beet greens, plant this crop in the early spring for a harvest of two separate crops--the early greens, and then the beets later on!
- Radishes - these are a work-horse vegetable in my gardens; planted as a companion to numerous other crops, radishes are a sacrificial crop that entices the flea beetle away from more precious and sensitive vegetables. The bonus is that the vegetable itself, the spicy bulbous root, is left untouched and can be consumed by the family.
- Swiss Chard - plant once the threat of hard frost has past. Chard is a delectable green that also adds a pop of color to the garden.
With all those options, what are you waiting for!? Get out there and get growing today!