There are so many terrific cooler season vegetables. These are just a few of the selections that I think are a) easy and b) productive.
It is wonderful to see all the enthusiasm for rare and unusual varieties! But, it's important to match seeds with your climate and your situation. It can be helpful to do what my mother calls a 'bake off', a bake off is when you select two or more varieties of the same crop to determine which performs better.
This is a great way to learn more about varieties as well as support clean, open pollinated seed producers. Purple carrots are lovely but purple carrots suck when you planted two packets of seeds to only eat five carrots. So, plant purple carrots and maybe scarlet nantes too. I've even planted scarlet nantes from three different seed houses at the same time and the difference was amazing. Perhaps you have some saved seed and have some new seed--bake off! Perhaps you want to try a new vegetable and you are not sure if you will like it--bake off!
- Turnips and Beets. These are great in soil blocks--you can multi-plant the blocks--saving on time, planting medium, and transplant time. Don't forget the bonus of the tops as greens--they are great braised, on top of winter soups, and if there are just too many they can be blanched and frozen or great for the flock. Carrots are not suitable for soil blocks but it's another root that can be productive in the garden.
- Cabbage and Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Purple sprouting broccoli surprised me a few years ago. It took a bit longer to get going but then it just kept sprouting more and more wonderful edible shoots. A full size heading broccoli is nice but a dozen mature full-sized broccoli heads that need to be eaten quick or blanched and frozen may not be wonderful depending on your situation. Smaller heading cabbages can mean less time to harvest and more cabbage in the crock to ferment--so I select smaller varieties and plant them intensively. The Bok Family. This isn't really a family--but it should be! If you have a small garden there are so many strategies for having food coming in all the time. When the garden is in full swing I like to plant a few seeds every week. Yup, that's right. Each week, I usually pick a day, I will plant out two or three dozen soil blocks to keep things coming in. Soil blocks allow me to easy and quickly interplant and as well as make up for short comings in germination or productivity. Ching Chang Bok Choi is one of my favorites for this--super cute, super tasty, super quick from seed to braise to the plate. There are so many cool season bok chois to choose from--or maybe choose a couple. Plus it's just fun to say Ching Chang Bok Choi--people will think that you made it up.
- Peas. Confession time: I used to hate peas. Until I had some bake offs and I was able to find varieties that I liked. Peas can be super productive and are easy to blanch and freeze if you find yourself overrun with peas.
- Spinach. Terrific crop that can be super productive. A good one for a bake off! Lettuces. Mesclun. Both of these can be quick from seed to plate and well worth having in the cool season garden. Frank Morton and Wild Garden Seed is my favorite seed house for lettuces.
- Sprouts. Sprouts are an easy valuable addition to the kitchen garden. It can be as simple as a jar with mesh lid or as fancy as sprouting trays. The nice thing about the cool season is that is it cooler in our homes so sprouts can be easier to manage--rinse and drain in the morning and rinse and drain in the evening. It's important to note that proper rinsing and draining is essential to sprout safety. Remember uncooked sprout may not be safe for the young, old, pregnant, or immune system compromised. Be sure to source your sprouting seeds from a reliable source and that they are suitable for sprouting. We purchase our sprouting seeds from Azure Standard but there are many other terrific sources for quality seed and we use SproutMaster trays. The young, old, pregnant, and immune system compromised should proceed with caution with uncooked sprouts.
- Extending the Season & Perennials in the Cool Season. Prune and continue to harvest eggplant and peppers. Clone tomatoes (rooted cutting of vigorous small fruited tomato variety) to enjoy tomatoes a bit longer. Perennial edibles like sorrel, Malabar spinach, and New Zealand spinach are going to ramp up in productivity if they suffered a bit during the summer and early fall--so be sure they have adequate space to grow.
There are so many wonderful cool season vegetables and these are just a few. I encourage you to have bake offs to learn what you and your family likes to eat as well as what's the most productive in your situation.
Be safe and eat well.
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