By Linda Ly
As soon as the autumnal equinox arrives and the days start to shorten, many gardeners hang up their trowels and call the season good until spring. But the cool season of fall and even the frosts of winter can still reap plentiful harvests in the vegetable garden if you choose your crops wisely. Cold hardy vegetables can survive hard frosts (about 25°F to 28°F) with some varieties tolerating temperatures into the teens or below. All taste better when allowed to mature during cool weather. When you look at the list of all you’re able to grow during the fall season, it’s a wonder why everyone doesn’t have a fall garden!
Though it sounds contradictory, cold hardy vegetables need to be started from seed mid to late summer for fall and winter harvest. The warm weather helps with germination and the longer days allow time for the crop to develop and mature by the time winter arrives.
If you missed the window for seed starting, you can still tend a cool-season crop by buying starter plants from a nursery (young plants that were started in summer and have already been nurtured for several weeks) and transplanting them in your garden early fall.
No cold frames or greenhouses needed – these are the easiest varieties to grow in cold weather and the ideal crops for beginner gardeners or those wanting a low-maintenance garden in fall and winter.
Collards – This super hardy plant can withstand temperatures down to 0°F. Like other brassicas, the flavor improves with a touch of frost, which sweetens the greens. Plant 6 to 8 weeks before first frost.
Kale – Mild, tender, frost-kissed kale is nothing like the bitter stuff you may have tasted from the store. Tolerant down to 0°F, this resilient crop is ideal for cold climate gardens. Plant 6 to 8 weeks before first frost.
Spinach – The hardiest of the salad greens, spinach can withstand temperatures to 0°F and turns sweeter as the weather gets colder. Offer the plants some protection (such as row cover) if you want the leaves to look their best. Plant 6 to 8 weeks before first frost.
Carrots – Winter weather stimulates this plant to produce more sugars, which act as a sort of antifreeze to protect the roots from freezes. While carrot tops are hardy to 15°F, the roots can tolerate even colder temps. Plant 8 to 10 weeks before first frost.
Fava Beans – These plants are tolerant to 15°F and make an excellent multipurpose crop in the garden. Grow them for green manure, or let them mature to harvest the leaves, flowers, and pods for eating through winter and spring. Plant 3 to 6 weeks before first frost.
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