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3 Hardy and Insanely Simple Cold Weather Plants for Your Garden This Spring

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

It’s that time of year. You're dying to shake off cabin fever. You're itching for spring planting. Every year is the same. You see that last bit of snow come through. You wonder if it’s the last snow of the season. The weather is unpredictable and you know it. But you’re willing to roll the dice if it means digging your hands in that rich, fertile soil.


Some of you may rely heavily on the Farmer’s Almanac to determine the best time to plant. Others may rely on a folklore involving moon phases, St. Patrick’s Day, Good Friday, and whether you can sit on the ground without your pants on and not get cold. That last one may explain the odd behaviors of my neighbor. 😳


For this article, we’re going to leave our pants on. We’re going to rely on the vegetables themselves to guide us in our decisions. And why shouldn’t we? They are the experts! If you’re ready to get planting, then by all means…read on.


1. Peas are first in line as the cool garden kids

garden pea pods all in green
Photo credit: Gilmer Diaz Estela - Pexels

Peas are great for early spring planting for several reasons including:


🌱Easy to handle

🌱Easy to see

🌱Easy to plant


If you have small kids helping, these three easy characteristics make the task more enjoyable.

Okay, so you get the point. Easy, easy, easy. But what else do you need to know about planting peas? I’m glad you asked. Keep reading, my friends.


How to choose the right pea variety for your garden


Choices, choices. Ugh… when you go to the store to pick out your cold-weather vegetables, you may find that you have more to consider. But really, it mainly boils down to the following considerations:


🌱Whether you want a bush type or climbing type of pea plant

🌱The amount of space you have in your garden for your peas

🌱Days until you can harvest your peas

🌱Whether you want to eat the pea pods


Planting your peas for the best harvest possible


Let’s face it. You don’t want to go to all the work and trouble of planting if the outcome is going to be a bust. You want peas. You love peas. And dammit, you’re going to have peas! But planting is more than digging a hole, dropping in a seed, and walking away. Au contraire! Not to worry though. It’s not a big, drawn-out production of events.


Follow along.


We’ll take the easy route. (Are you sensing a trend with this easy thing?)


When planting peas, you’ll want to keep the following actions in mind:


🌱Plant in an area the peas will get full sun exposure

🌱Plant in soil with midrange PH level (6 - 7.5)

🌱Plant at least 60 days before the hot summer months arrive

🌱Use a trellis for climbing pea varieties

🌱Plant bush pea varieties close together for support

🌱Plant the peas in a shallow channel and cover them with about 1 inch of dirt

🌱Don’t plant all the peas at once - stagger plantings about a week apart

🌱If a late frost arrives, be sure to cover the plants with a sheet

🌱Keep the soil moist, but not drenched

🌱Keep the area free from weeds


Harvesting your peas


Pea pods can change quickly once they get to the maturity stage. I believe the ideal pea-picking time is specific to each individual. Some people like smaller peas while others like more fat, robust peas. Each day that passes will change the flavor, sweetness, and starchiness of the peas. It’s important to view and sample the peas each day when it’s close to picking time. You’ll know when the peas are just right for your taste buds. And when that day comes, be sure to have plenty of time set aside. You’ll need to pick the peas and get them packaged for storage before they lose their flavor.


2. Radishes are up next on the easy planting list

bunch of red round radishes with tops laying on dirt
Photo credit: Mirko Fabian - Pexels

Radishes have several cool weather planting benefits, which qualify them for the easy list. These perks include:


🌱Short growing period

🌱Good for early spring and late fall planting

🌱Very few insect or disease problems


The unfavorable part of planting radish seeds is that they are very tiny. They are also difficult to see once they are in the dirt. Seed tapes may be a route you want to consider to help with these issues.


Radish varieties for your garden


Radishes come in a variety of shapes, colors, and heat factors. Some are red and round. Some are long and white. Some are a combination of reddish and purple. The spiciness can be anything from mild to a pungent peppery sensation. The envelope your radish seeds come in should identify the characteristics. So be sure to read the description carefully on each package variety.


How to plant your radishes


As I mentioned previously, the time from planting to harvest is amazingly short. From planting time to harvest time could be as little as three to five weeks. To be certain of a great radish crop, take note of the following:


🌱Plant in an area the radishes will get full sun exposure

🌱Plant in a well-drained, sandy dirt mix

🌱Plant in shallow channels only ¼ to ½ inches deep

🌱Once sprouts begin to show, thin the radishes to about 2 inches apart

🌱Water the radishes once a week

🌱Don’t plant all the radishes at once - stagger plantings about a week apart

🌱Keep the area free from weeds


Harvesting your radishes


Because the maturity time is so short, you’ll want to check your radish garden often. I brush away a bit of the dirt to see how big the radishes are getting. Then once I see they are big enough, I begin to pull them. You can also pull a couple of radishes every few days to see their size. It is far better to plant more radishes than to let them grow too long. If the radishes exceed maturity, they get woody, pithy, and overly spicy.


3. Turnips are easy to plant and often undervalued

Basket laying on its side with white and purple turnips spilling out
Photo credit: Vanessa Bucceri

Turnips in some parts of the country may be poorly underrated. They are one of the Cadillacs of root vegetables because of their benefits, which include:


🌱Every part of the turnip is edible, including the roots and leaves

🌱They make a nice substitute for mashed potatoes

🌱They contain a whole mess of nutritional value


It’s no wonder why Billy Currington included these versatile gems in his song “Good Directions and Turnip Greens.” Next time you hear that song, don’t be surprised if you start thinking about the amenities of this easy cold-weather vegetable.


Types of turnip varieties


There are many different turnip varieties. Colors include white, red, yellow, and purple. Some have skin that resembles a potato. Some turnips are sweeter. Others can be more radish-like with a spicy flavor. Some taste a lot like potatoes. Turnips can be a fun garden and cuisine experiment for your family. Try several kinds and see which ones pair better with soups, salads, and main dishes.


Planting your turnips


Turnips have similar planting requirements to peas and radishes. You’ll notice the information below has several of the same directions. These similarities help make the early spring planting efforts easy. You’re essentially repeating the same process for each type of produce. How cool is that?! (ahem...pun intended)


🌱Plant in an area the peas will get full sun exposure

🌱Plant in soil with midrange PH level (6 - 7.5)

🌱Plant in shallow channels only ¼ to ½ inches deep

🌱Once sprouts begin to show, thin the turnips to about 3 - 6 inches apart

🌱Water the turnips at least once a week or more making sure to soak them thoroughly

🌱Don’t plant all the turnips at once - stagger plantings about a week apart

🌱Keep the area free from weeds


Harvesting your turnips


Checking the size of the turnips should be easy. Yes, I said it again...Easy! The tops of the turnips are close to the surface of the soil. Begin pulling these vegetables from the ground when the tops of the turnips are about two to three inches wide. Allowing them to continue to grow bigger will produce unsavory, woody, and bitter results. Don’t forget to keep the leaves and roots. They make a great addition to salads or as a cooked side dish, similar to cooked spinach.


Summary


In case you missed it, easy is the name of the game here. There’s no need to wait for the hot summer to take over before you start your garden. In fact, please don’t. These cold-weather crops are perfect for getting your garden started for the season. Whether you try one or all three, you’re sure to have rewarding success in your efforts. And if you have kids trying out their skills for their first garden, peas, radishes, and turnips are positive confidence builders.


So shake off those winter blues. Get out there and get dirty. Have fun planting these uncomplicated veggies and reaping the bounty of your edible oasis.


And don’t forget to save some of those seeds for your cool-weather planting this fall!







Resources:


Cover photo: Photomix Company

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