In less than two months, spring will officially arrive on our calendars, and the 2018 gardening season will begin in earnest! But there are plenty of ways we could be eating our own homegrown food right now with proper planning in late summer and early fall. In fact, wife Pat and I are still eating fall planted collard greens and are beginning to harvest baby kale leaves for salads from seeds planted in a cold frame in mid-November. We also planted ’Sugar Snap’ peas from seeds and broccoli, red cabbage and green onion transplants in our cold frame at the same time, and as winter temperatures are losing their grip here in South Carolina, we will soon begin harvesting those crops as well.
In December, we seeded eight long, window box-type planters with a second crop of kale, spinach, mixed varieties of lettuces and mache (corn salad) in a southern sun exposure on the back deck. We had them tightly spaced together and covered them with two thicknesses of 6-mil plastic through the coldest winter weeks, removing the plastic on the warmest days for watering and soaking in some direct sun. We just recently removed the plastic for what we hope is the last time and most seedlings are 1-2 inches tall, and germination was so good that we will probably have to begin thinning soon, and of course our baby greens will find their way into luscious and very early salads.
We are also beginning to seed transplant trays indoors with all sorts of more “cole crops” like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, so that we can get quick and uniform germination and growth and transplant into the garden when the soil begins to warm. Of course, we have to grow our spring cole crops off quickly here in the South, because late spring and early summer heat will rapidly cause them to bolt, whereas we can direct seed our fall to winter crops in late summer or early fall as the temperatures begin to cool somewhat.
We personally also like to seed broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in transplant trays late summer here, because we feel we get more uniform growth, better pest control and no need for thinning, whereas we direct seed other winter crops like kale, mustard, turnips, chard and beets in late summer. In Northern gardens, you have the option to grow transplants or direct seed spring and fall crops of most cole crops.