Planting cool season vegetables allows you to harvest fresh produce into the winter in milder climates. Give these fall vegetables a try to extend your gardening season.
Contributed by Shannon Stonger
We may not get the milder summers and fall beauty that northern climates have, but here in zone 8, we do get to grow some vegetables right on into winter, so that we can harvest hardy vegetables for months past the usual end of the growing season.
Does your homeowners association prevent you from growing food in the front yard? What if they never even KNEW? My ebook, The Edible Front Yard Garden will show you how!
Considering Cool Weather Crops in the Garden
There are some greens and root crops that do well – even tasting better – after our lighter freezes (28-32 degrees F). But then there are some that really just turn to mush and are inedible.
Most fall vegetables, even the cold-hardy varieties, would do well to be covered at temperatures below 25 degrees.
So what is it that makes one vegetable withstand a freeze and another not so much? And which fall vegetables can tolerate the mild frosts and freezes?
Grow Some Greens!
Ready to grow fresh greens, no matter WHERE you live? Sign up for my
FREE quick-start guide and start growing some of your own food!
To answer the first question, it really comes down to the sugar content of a vegetable. As the temperatures drop, the water in the cells expands as it begins to turn to ice. Eventually, when the freezing point hits, the cell walls burst and frost or freeze damage is incurred.
Cold-hardy vegetables and vegetable varieties are often higher in sugars than their counterparts. Sugar water freezes at a lower temperature than regular water, allowing the cell walls of the higher-sugar vegetables to stay intact.
You may notice, too, that during a slow cool down of fall and into winter, vegetables get sweeter over time, thereby giving them a high cold-tolerance as winter sets in.
Planning Ahead for Fall Crops
Planting these cool season vegetables long before the onslaught of light freezes really helps. Mature plants seem to tolerate the cold better than immature plants.
And, because moisture holds heat, nights of high-humidity or precipitation tend to be safer for fall vegetables than the cold, dry, windy nights.
Cool Season Vegetables to Consider
First of all, when looking for seeds, seek out the most cold hardy varieties of any of these cool season vegetable crops. Secondly, stick with greens and roots.
Warm season vegetables include fruiting plants like tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and peppers; these will keel over as soon as a frost hits.
- Brussels Sprouts
- Tatsoi – This mustard variety can be found hardy down to 15 F!
- Cabbage – Chinese cabbage is often more cold-hardy than green and red cabbages.
- All the brassica crops, really!
All of the above cold season vegetables often survive right through to spring in a milder climate such as ours.
However, when night-time temperatures are set to drop below freezing in the vegetable garden, we often cover the more vulnerable fall vegetables like lettuce, cauliflower, beets, etc. with blankets or row covers.
One more option for growing food in cooler temperatures right into winter is over-wintering crops.
These are things that withstand the cold and might give you small harvests during the cold winter but will surely come to life in spring and deliver. The most common of these are garlic and onions but we have also done fava beans and greens with great results.
Originally published December 2017; this post has been updated.