Heirloom Expert: Cool Weather Crops

What cool weather crops are good for extending the fall garden into the colder months, or starting up the spring garden after a long winter?

  • The dandelion is a great cool weather plant that's easy to grow, nutritious, and delicious.
    Photo by fotolia/Elenathewise

Hi, Doug, I know you love to grow cool weather crops in the spring; what are some of your favorites? I want to try something different this year. — Larry from Pennsylvania

Larry, looks like you’ve been reading the column for a while. Here are a few favorites that will shake off the frost. Don’t forget, though, they are not just for spring; these can be planted in early fall to extend the season well into winter or beyond, depending on the season.

I love all arugulas for their peppery flavor and toughness. Try ‘Pronto,’ it’s similar to wild arugula in that it’s spicy, will self-sow, and in some cases outgrow weeds!

Corn mache is one of the most cold tolerant greens. It can actually freeze solid and then be harvested during a thaw. There are two cool cultivars in the Baker Creek catalog which date to the 1800s. One of the things I love about growing heirlooms is thinking about how important these cold weather crops were for early settlers.

Dandelions are one of the most misunderstood plants on the planet. They are also one of the most nutritious. I grow two cultivars from the catalog that are wonderful fresh in salads: ‘Italiko Rosso’ and ‘Catalogna Puntarelle,’ both offer something different and wonderful. I can remember how excited I was when I found the seed at the store in Missouri years ago when I was speaking at the Spring Planting Festival. I see they’ve added a ‘French’ Dandelion. I’m going to have to add that to the list of new plants for this year’s garden.

Give dandelions a try, they have a rich history, intense flavor and are easy to grow.

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