Cool-Season Veggies Pt. 2: Veggies Underground

When first stepping into the world of garden-grown fruits and vegetables, you may ask yourself “Why can’t I grow what I want when I want to?”. Or at least that’s the question I asked myself when I just could not get my onions and kale to grow when I seeded them in late June.

I had made a terrible misstep in my garden adventure in that I had tried to plant cool-weather vegetables in the humid heat of a New Jersey summer. I had not done well in planning my crop schedule or in doing research as to how I should have approached having a backyard garden in the first place. In early September when I ended up with virtually no root veg with the exception of three fibrous, flavorless radishes, I took to the internet and my local library to answer my cool-season quandary.

Root vegetables have been a staple in cuisine from around the world since the beginning of time. Onions, beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes, radishes: the list goes on and on. Knowing when, and how, to plant these familiar favorites is important when planning your garden and crop schedule. What I discovered is that these vegetables not only do well in colder weather, but actually need cold temperatures to be able to grow. These vegetables are able to be grown twice a year (in the Spring and Autumn), due to the ground cooling with the ambient air temperature.

Plants go through a process called germination, which is just a way to say that plants grow from seeds into seedlings into adult plants. Cool-weather plants need to be in chillier temperatures to be able to germinate, or else all the cells inside them that are focused on growing will not work and the plant will die. Not only is the cool weather necessary for the plant to grow from a seed, it is also crucial for the plant to be able to produce vegetables. Some plants even prefer to experience a light frost (a death sentence for many plants and other types of warm-season veggies) to be able to make vegetables that have better taste. 

So, with this knowledge tucked in my cap I took to the garden early the following year. As soon as the soil in my raised beds was workable in the early Spring, I sowed my root veggies. A month later, I had a bountiful harvest of radishes and onions, and after another four weeks I had brussels sprouts. That Autumn I sowed my cool-season veg again and was able to produce another harvest. 

Highlights to remember:

  • Root veggies like onions, parsnips, rutabaga, etc. should all be sowed when the soil becomes workable. This can be anywhere from 6-10 weeks before our frost date (around Mother's Day here at the shore)
  • You can plant these vegetables twice a year in the Spring and Fall
  • When planting, keep seeds about 3 or 4 inches apart. You may want to thin the vegetables out when they start to sprout if they seem too close together. Seedlings need to be spaced between 6 - 12" apart. 
  • Root crops are usually close to six inches in depth, keep that in mind if using raised beds or standing gardens
  • When watering, only water enough that when you grab a handful of soil, you can roll it into a ball without making your hand moist
  • Your vegetables are ready for harvest when the roots are about the size of your pinky finger

Much of this information was obtained from Oregon and Penn State Universities as well as the ‘Mastering Biology’ Pearson Biology textbook.