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Pre-season sowing: Get a head start on growing season with these cool-weather-loving veggies

If the soil can be dug, then you can get these seeds in the ground now!

If the soil can be dug, then you can get these seeds in the ground now!

(Credit: Foodism360/unsplash.com)

Now is around the time where impatient green thumbs are sowing the seeds of heat-loving veggies, like tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and squash, indoors. The little seedlings that grow will be nurtured until the soil warms up and all threat of frost has passed. The benchmark for this, if Mother Nature doesn't throw a wrench in a gardener's plans, is generally around the May long weekend (maybe a bit before or after, depending on where in Canada you live).

However, once the soil outside has thawed enough to dig — which may be now, depending on where you live — there are cool-weather-loving crops that can be planted from seed right in the garden. This is called direct sowing. These seeds are planted in the soil - they don't need that head start indoors. Here are a few cool-weather crop suggestions.

Peas

Peas are one of the earliest crops you can grow, and there are different types (not to mention varieties) to try, depending on how you want to eat them, from snow peas, which work well in stir fries, to snap peas, which are delicious straight off the vine. And if you're willing to sacrifice a few seeds, plant a few peas in a pot, so you can snip fresh pea shoots - they're pretty yummy in a salad or as a garnish. Sow in early to mid-spring in fertile soil that gets full sun. Also, remember that peas are going to shoot their tendrils wherever they can, so be sure to give them a nice trellis to grow up and out.

Varieties to try: Little Crunch, a snap pea that's perfect for containers; Sugar Daddy Sugar Snap Pea, which was the first stringless snap pea.

Members of the Brassica family, such as kale

Kale falls into the love it or hate it category, but there are some lovely varieties to be tasted (steamed, as kale chips or in a salad). Cooler temperatures, or even a light frost, can actually make small kale leaves taste sweeter. Small-space gardeners should look for container varieties that will do well in pots. To grow this hardy green, plant seeds anytime during the spring or early summer in well-drained, lightweight soil. While it thrives in full sun, a kale plant will tolerate a bit of shade, as well.

Varieties to try: Vates Blue Curled; Lacinato aka dinosaur kale.

* Other members of the Brassica family include broccoli, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage and collard greens.

Root veggies, such as beets

Beets are often put in the superfood category because they boast a number of health benefits. They are delicious steamed, but you can also grate them raw into a salad, and some people even use them in baking. And you don't have to just settle for the standard deep red beets. There are a few colours to choose from. Beets won't put down roots if the soil is too cold (though once they grow, actual beets can withstand a frost). Wait until the soil temperature is above 10ºC to sow. Each beet needs to be seven to 15 centimetres apart, so be sure to thin (see below) accordingly. Don't let those thinned beet seedlings go to waste! Toss them in a salad.

Varieties to try: Golden beets; Chioggia beets, which look like a candy cane with red and white stripes when you cut them open.

* Other root veggies include carrots and radishes.

Planting advice

Remember to follow the seed packets' instructions carefully. They should hold all the answers you'll need for when to sow, how far apart to space the seeds, etc.

Defend your garden from pests

Marauding squirrels and other pests can be a nuisance in many a garden, so you may need to cover your plants with fine netting that will keep them out until plants are more well established. Insect pests can also be a big frustration. If plants are being eaten or seem to be suffering, Google the symptoms to determine how to remedy the problem.

Thinning seedlings

As painful as it may be to pull out fresh little seedlings that are eagerly pointing towards the sun, in most instances, thinning will benefit your crop. Root veggies, like beets and carrots, need space to grow. Use tweezers or small scissors to eliminate seedlings that might inhibit the growth of where you want your main plant to grow. Read the seed packet to see how far apart each veggie needs to be spaced.

Protect your crops

Even if you think you've planted your crops at the right time, the weather could take a turn for the worse and throw hail or a big cold snap into the forecast. There are a few accessories you can use to protect precious young plants and seedlings that have barely had a chance to grow big and strong and healthy. Cloches, for example, will protect tender young seedlings from harm.


Tara Nolan is a freelance writer who covers gardening, decor, travel, and cycling, mountain biking and other outdoor adventures for a variety of publications. She is also one quarter of the popular gardening website Savvy Gardening.

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