What is a cool weather garden you ask? It’s a garden packed with hardy and semi-hardy vegetables that you can grow up to the first frost of autumn. In some cases, you can even grow pass the first frost. Semi-hardy veggies are plants that can tolerate temps between 29 and 32 degrees. These are things like beets, carrots, cauliflowers, Irish potatoes and Swiss chard. I have a longer list at the bottom of this blog. Though you can grow these in the summer, some of them (like Swiss chard) actually taste better grown in cooler weather.
Hardy veggies are vegetables that can grow and survive in even colder temps of 25 and 28degrees. Broccoli, cabbage, English peas, leeks, Brussels sprouts and turnips are just a few that fall into this category. Then there are the super hardy veggies like kale, spinach and collards that can withstand temperatures in the low 20 and high teens. All of these plants taste best when grown in cold weather.
Timing Your Cool Weather Garden is Key
If you were too busy to start that spring/summer garden this year, or want to experience incredible, homegrown cool weather veggies, the cool weather garden is for you. The factors that are most important are picking the right plants to grow and determining what’s the absolute cutoff date to plant them outdoors. Every crop has a varying amount of time from sowing the seeds until harvest. So you have to time the duration from sow to harvest with the average date of the first frost for your region. Here in North Jersey, the average first frost falls between Oct 30 and Nov 15. According to the Nation Climatic Data Center, Essex County, New Jersey is almost guaranteed to have frost by November 1…but I think Nov 7 is a safe date to plan your cool weather garden.
If we pick Nov 7 as the very, very last day for harvesting the cool weather veggies, you have to count backward from that date to find what’s the date you have to have seeds in the ground to harvest before the frost. I’ve made a short list of both semi- and hardy crops with the number of days or weeks they should be planted before the deadline (with corresponding date to plant by):
Arugula: 30 days before 1st frost (Oct 7)
Beets: 10 weeks before 1st frost (Aug 29)
Broccoli: 10 weeks before 1st frost (Aug 29)
Carrots: 10 weeks before 1st frost (Aug 29)
Cauliflower: 8 weeks before 1st frost (Sept 12)
Collards: 6weeks before 1st frost (Sept 26)
Radishes: 30 days before 1st frost (Oct 7)
Spinach: 5 weeks before 1st frost (Oct 3)
Swiss Chard: 6 weeks before 1st frost (Sept 26)
Turnips: 8 weeks before 1st frost (Sept 12)
These are just a few examples. At the bottom of this blog, I have a longer list of semi and hardy veggies you can plant this year.
There are a few other things you can do to help your crops in the cooler months of the year. First, you can use raised beds. Raised beds help to keep the soil warmer than in surrounding earth. They also help with weeds and reducing the amount of bending you have to do. Second, you can extend the growing by draping your garden with fabric or using a cold frame. A cold frame is basically a mini-greenhouse about the size of a large breadbox. It lets light in, but keeps frost out. Translucent fabric can do the same thing for larger rows of plants at a smaller cost.
All the other standard conditions for growing plants stand. You have to make sure you place the crops in the right amount of sunlight and water them as much as they need. Beyond that, you can have garden fresh veggies until November. You can also pickle some of your bounty as an excellent addition to holiday season meals.
Beets, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese cabbage, Endive, Irish potatoes, Lettuce, Radicchio, Rutabaga, Salsify and Swiss chard
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, English peas, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Mustard greens, Parsley, Radish, Spinach and Turnip