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Enjoy Success with Cool Season Vegetables

For years I struggled with my little vegetable garden. Every year I had renewed hopes for bountiful harvests of tomatoes, beans, squash and other summer vegetables. Then inevitably my beautiful plants developed holes, fried edges, rusty streaks, and black spots. I watched sadly as my hopes withered under blistering summer sun and stifling humidity. I gathered my harvests and was ashamed to admit how paltry they were, despite loving care and too much money. (I once read an article titled, "My Fifty Dollar Tomato." I can identify.)

Then a most amazing thing happened: I discovered cool season vegetables! Why, oh why, doesn't everyone grow these?!This wonderful cool season vegetable garden is located at Myers Plants and Pottery in Pelham, Alabama.

In my part of the world, winter temperatures drop below freezing but are unlikely to stay there long. Several days last week temperatures plunged into the low 20s. Today, people dressed in tee shirts and shorts were outside jogging and walking their dogs. This schizophrenic weather is typical of an Alabama winter. It can be hard on plants, which too often put out young buds just in time to get zapped by frost. But it also enables year-round gardening.

A host of hardy and semi-hardy vegetables do quite well in my climate. Most of them can endure short periods of frost, and some even taste sweeter for it. The best part is that bugs and disease rarely bother plants this time of year, and I don't have to put on 70+ sunscreen to check on them. (However, I do use a milder sunscreen, always, year round.)

This is far from a complete list, but here are some cool season vegetables to consider:

Hardy vegetables will endure temps down into the low 20s or high teens. They require 3 to 6 hours of direct sun daily. Many will go to seed or develop a bitter taste with rising temperatures. In warm areas like mine they can be planted from late summer to early fall for harvests in late fall, winter and early spring. In regions where winter routinely brings temps into the teens or below, plant these vegetables as soon as the ground can be worked in spring to enjoy a harvest before higher summer temps arrive:

Broccoli This was my broccoli last week after a winter storm left a layer of ice over many areas of the garden. Because these were so close to harvest, I did cover them overnight when the temps were the coldest. No harm done! Cabbage

CollardsI did not cover my collards, and they were crusted with ice after a wintry night of ice and snow. They seemed to enjoy the frigid bath.

KaleMy ornamental kale also came through the icy night just fine. You can eat ornamental kale, though I grow it to add color to the winter garden. I grow a less decorative type to eat, though it's deep bluish-green leaves are also beautiful in my eyes. It too had no problems with the ice.

Mustard greens

English peas




Semi-hardy vegetables can take temperatures at or slightly below freezing, 29-32 degrees Fahrenheit. They require about 6 hours of direct sun daily. In warm regions, plant in late summer or in late winter. In colder parts of the country, plant in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked, about 3-5 weeks before the frost date:




Swiss ChardBefore the frigid temperatures, my Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' was gorgeous. I covered it up, and the hard frost did not kill it. But most of the leaves were wilted. Low 20's was too cold for its comfort!



You can protect your cool season vegetables with a 2 inch layer of organic mulch such as straw or pine bark. Pull the mulch away from the plants in spring.




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Reader Comments (11)

Your cool season vegetables look healthy and completely untouched by the cold snaps, Deb. I did far better with cool season than "warm" season vegetables here in SoCal too, although I've abandoned vegetables altogether this year in favor of a floral cutting garden and some herbs. I already miss those sugar snap peas, though!

January 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

Good and informative post, Deb. I was reading about your vegetable garden in the first paragraph and saw that photo from Myers. At first I thought you chopped down some of your woodland, lol.

January 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I grow some winter vegetables Deb, getting them into the ground at just the right time is critical otherwise they don't grow enough or if too early tend to go to seed immediately. Yours look delicious.

January 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I love winter gardening. Unfortunately, the deer stomped through all my raised beds this year and really made a mess of things. We've never had deer issues in our garden before and I think that the drought made them venture into our garden. Our 3 dogs are enough to keep them at bay. Your veggies look great. I've never had success growing broccoli but we do lots of greens, carrots, radishes, and onions.

January 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKarin/Southern Meadows

Looks very luscious! Cool season veggies are hard to grow here because we quickly shift from a short spring to a long, hot summer. People do plant in summer to harvest in fall.

January 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason

How wonderful to be able to garden year-round outside! I have been moving more toward extending the growing season in little ways here in my northern location--through cold frames, seed-starting, and indoor plants. But it would be great to be able to grow some of the things you list year-round, outdoors!

January 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

How wonderful that you have found a way to be successful with your vegetables! I do have good luck with cool season vegetables here, but that starts in early spring, not winter. I plant most of them in late March or early April, and before you know it, I'm enjoying lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, and radishes. The carrots, kohlrabi, and green onions that I plant at the same time do take a bit longer to harvest. In the heat, we plant peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

January 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Hi Deb, these winter vegetables are amazing! I am not a vegetable gardener at all but was happy to learn quite a few things from your post about cool season vegetables. The first photo of the vegetable garden is almost as pretty to look at as an ornamental garden! I am really surprised that most of your own winter vegetables could deal with the cold weather so well. I didn't know that they would survive so low temperatures.
Warm regards,

January 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

These are some lovely vegetables to grow Deb and I sympathize with you about trying to grow veg when it gets too hot! I was always trying to grow tomatoes here when I thought it seemed appropriate to grow a tomato and ending with a big failure! I love to grow lettuce over the winter and have good success with broccoli and french beans too! Good luck with yours!

January 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

Deb -- I, too, have better luck with cool season veggie gardening.

January 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

In Maine, many farmers grow the same cool-season vegetables inside hoop houses. The result is that I can go to my local winter farmers' market in February and buy wonderful fresh veggies.

February 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJean

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