Spring brings us joy. Just like our favorite perennials, the spring months bring us relief from the sleepy days of winter and beckon us out to enjoy the sun. While we may be excited to get our hands dirty and plant our herbs and veggies, we may hesitate to plant some varieties in case of an unexpected late spring frost.
While we may prefer to hold off until mid-April, when most of North Carolina is safely past the danger of frost, there are some vegetable varieties that thrive in the cooler temperatures. Here are our favorite fall harvest vegetables and herbs.
This strong-flavored leafy green can spice up fresh salads and pestos. Plant it in a spot where it can enjoy spring sun. It will grow up to 12 inches by the time it is ready for harvest. If you want to continue harvesting the leaves till the early part of summer, prune the flower spikes as soon as you notice them. Water arugula regularly during the season.
Due to their preference for cool weather and their long maturity period, broccoli is best started from seed indoors over the winter and transplanted into your vegetable garden as early as late February. This veggie needs full sun and moist, fertile soil. Adding 2 inches of compost to the soil will help the plant to thrive. Add mulch to keep the soil moist and make sure that the developing broccoli heads do not get wet while watering. Broccoli can also be direct-seeded in July, which will prepare them to be harvested in the cool fall season.
Harvest once the heads are firm. Another sign your broccoli is harvest-ready is that the petals surrounding the heads begin to turn yellow. Cut the stalks 6 inches down from the top of the head.
A member of the cabbage family, brussels sprouts are an excellent source of proteins and vitamins. Brussels are also a cool season crop that does best when transplanted from a starter grown indoors.
While transplanting make sure that they are planted at least 12 inches apart. Add organic mulch to keep the soil cool, moist, and nutritious. Fertilize brussels sprouts three weeks after planting, and keep them well watered. Harvest from the bottom of the stalk once the sprouts grow to approximately 1 inch in diameter.
This leafy vegetable will only grow in cool temperatures, so make good use of the cool spring weather while it’s here! Like broccoli and brussels sprouts, spring cabbage should be transplanted rather than direct-seeded.
It is important to harden young cabbage plants off two weeks before transplanting. Use the first week to place them in a cool garage for one or two hours. Bring them outdoors during the second week for a few hours at a time, adding more time every day. Plant 12 to 24 inches apart in moist soil. Heavy mulch, like straw, will keep the soil temperature cool and moist. Fertilize three weeks after planting.
Harvest cabbage heads when they are firm and reach your desired size. Cut heads off at the base and bring them indoors immediately. Remember to remove the root and stem of the plant entirely from the soil after harvest to prevent disease from building up in the soil.
As the name suggests, cauliflower is an edible flower. Its leaves and stems are also edible. Among the vegetable family, it is a tough one to grow as it’s vulnerable to temperature variations. It needs a sunny spot, but too much warmth can prevent it from forming flower buds. This makes it an ideal crop to transplant in the cool spring months or as summer fades into fall. Cauliflower should be hardened off before transplanting.
Plant it in organic-rich well-drained soil and mulch to retain consistent moisture. Water regularly as inadequate water can turn the flower buds bitter. Fertilize every 2 to 4 weeks.
Harvest when the buds are tight - too much delay can lead to flowering. Cut heads off at the base.
Salads aren’t the same without the cool freshness and crisp taste of home-grown lettuce. There are so many different varieties available, like Buttercrunch, Bibb, Iceberg, Green or Red Leaf, and Romaine. For the most part, they require similar growing conditions.
Plant them 12-to-15 inches apart in a partly shaded spot. The soil should be rich in organic material. Soil should be well-drained but moist. Give lettuce a dose of fertilizer 3 weeks after transplanting. Weed carefully to avoid damaging lettuce leaves.
For the best flavor, harvest leaf lettuce when the leaves are young and tender. Pick outer leaves first - this helps the center leaves to grow out. The more you harvest, the more lettuce will grow. This process has earned leaf lettuce varieties the nickname “cut and come again” lettuce.
Head-forming lettuces, like Iceberg, Romaine, and Buttercrunch, need to be collected by cutting the plant an inch above ground level.
Veggies like Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Spinach and herbs like Cilantro, Oregano, Parsley, Dill, and Florence Fennel also love cool weather and thrive with proper care.
When properly cared for, the quality and freshness of homegrown veggies are always leaps and bounds better than what you can find at the average supermarket. Talk to an attendant at our nursery for more tips on growing these delicious cool weather crops.
Carolina Seasons Nursery