Cool Season Crops with the Hudson Valley Seed Library
Shanghai Baby Bok Choi (right image via Katherine Porter): "I love this variety so much-- succulent green stems and buttery green leaves. Plus, it doesn't bolt in the fall! It just gets bigger and bigger."
Though we're currently enjoying the bounty of our summer garden, we're already looking ahead to fall and its harvest of cool season crops. From kale and spinach to colorful chard and carrots, cold-friendly vegetables extend the growing season with fresh produce well into autumn. As we prepare to plant our cool season crops, we asked Erin Enouen, Sales and Catalog Manager at Hudson Valley Seed Library, to share some of her favorites. She says, "Vegetables are sweeter in the fall! The flavor of cool season crops is unbeatable after the first light frost." Read on for more with Erin, plus her fall garden roster.
terrain: Can you tell us a bit about Hudson Valley Seed Library?
Erin: Hudson Valley Seed Library is a small, farm-based seed company, located in the heart of New York's Hudson Valley. Our mission is to celebrate the diversity of seeds and their stewards. We do this through our Art Packs, our traveling gallery show, and our catalog of seed varieties. Each year, we seek out unique heirlooms and new open-pollinated varieties that help increase diversity and improve the taste, hardiness, and adaptability of what you can grow.
terrain: When is the ideal time to plant cool season crops?
Erin: It depends on what you're planting! There are a few fall crops, such as winter squash, that are planted in the spring and grow all season until fall harvest. However, the vast majority of what can be grown and enjoyed in the fall months should be started much later, from the summer solstice through August. To get a firm planting date, take a look at the days to maturity listed on the seed pack. Add 1-2 weeks to account for the fact that these plants will be growing when the days are getting shorter. Using that number, count back from your ideal harvest date-- September 21 is an easy date to use. That will give you a pretty good date for planting.
terrain: Should the seeds be started indoors, or can they be direct seeded?
Erin: I've had the most success starting cabbage, kale, chard, broccoli, and collards indoors, then transplanting 4-6 weeks later. These plants are started on the earlier end of the window I mentioned above. Other greens like lettuce, arugula, tatsoi, komatsuna, and spinach do very well when they are direct seeded. Roots like carrots, beets, and radishes should also be direct sown.
terrain: Do cool season vegetables require any special care?
Erin: For most regions, cool season crops are started during the summer, so they'll need some special care to get going during the hottest, driest part of the year. While most other garden plants are established and can endure the stress of summer, smaller cool season crops can easily take a hit, making them weak and more susceptible to pests and disease.
When starting seedlings indoors, use a high quality, organic potting mix. Keep them watered and cool. Remember: 90-100 degrees is typically too hot for new plant growth. Shade cloths that limit 30% of sunlight are a great tool to provide a more gentle growing environment, if you have a greenhouse. When seedlings are moved outdoors to harden off, protect them from summer thunderstorms and heavy rain, which can wash out soil nutrients and damage leaves and roots.
Direct seeded crops can also fry in warm, dry soil-- summer provides the perfect conditions for this! We prepare our garden beds with an application of high quality compost that is incorporated 2-4 inches deep, then rake the bed flat and tamp it down. The extra compression keeps seeds from getting trapped in a dry, airy spot. Sow seeds slightly deeper than recommended; not too deep, but just enough to protect them from the heat. In dry seasons, be sure to water them very well each day until they are fully emerged, then provide the amount of moisture recommended. In general, cool season crops prefer a more generous amount of water, about 1 inch per week, and typically do best with fertile soils. For many crops, I find that mulching helps keep the soil cool, and locks in moisture and nutrients.
terrain: When can you expect to harvest your cool season veggies?
Erin: If you use the "count back" method I described above, crops should be harvestable from the end of September through October. In many regions, this period marks the start of cool temperatures and shorter days, so crops won't grow quite as fast after they are harvested. For this reason, I like to have more of my favorite plants going for fall harvest, so I can enjoy them in abundance later in the season!
Below, Erin shares more of her favorite cool season veggies, and why she loves each one.
Danvers Carrot (image via Kyle Isenhower): "This carrot has a nice blocky taper, making it easy to grow in many soil types. It has great flavor, plus it stores really well so you can continue to enjoy your harvest for months after the season has ended."
Rainbow Chard (right image via Sara Witherby): "No fall garden is complete without jewel-toned rainbow chard! I love chard because it's so abundant, and it's a great green to ease the transition from summer into fall. It pairs well with the last of the tomatoes and squashes, and is excellent in a winter squash soup."
Dino Kale (image via mappa1001): "Also known as Lacinato-- I'm still a member of the kale camp, and this one is my tried and true favorite."
Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach (image via Hudson Valley Seed Library): "This savoy leaf spinach is really a fall and winter variety. It loves the cold, and gets very deeply crinkled as it matures. The flavor after a freeze is so sweet and delicious. I love it in soups or wilted with garlicky pasta. Plus, if you leave any in the ground, it will overwinter and you can enjoy it in the spring! Sow in August to harvest in October."