We’re not sure what April is really like in all the different climate zones across the world, but here in our little corner of planet earth, April is drunk. One day it can be 80°F, the next we can be getting an icy mix of precipitation. This literally happened earlier this week. Wild weather swings is a whole mood across the Midwest.
It can be a challenging environment to grow in. April sees a solid chance of frost all the way through (our last potential frost day is mid-May), and once warm weather comes it’s not some gradual warm-up. It’s a switch from winter to summer. It’s brutal and catches you by surprise every year no matter how long you’ve been at it.
However, there are some cold tolerant plants that can thrive in this environment because, no matter if the weather is wacky, the soil still warms pretty consistently. Soil warmth is the name of the game for seed germination, but once those seeds pop the plants themselves still need to be able to withstand some chilly temps. Read on to learn the best cold-tolerant crops to plant in your spring garden.
Radish isn’t necessarily the “best” crop for your spring garden, but it goes first on the list because of it’s rapid maturation. Radishes are ready to eat in just 20 days under ideal conditions! Realistically in the cooler weather of early spring, it can take just a little longer than a month but that’s still crazy quick from seed to plate! Radishes even tolerate a light frost, so unless there’s a deep freeze headed your way, you can save your frost protection for other, more delicate plants. Radishes get bonus points too because they are dual-use in that you can eat the greens and the roots (like beets).
Green leafies are the undisputed kings and/or queens of the cool weather, spring garden.Tweet
Green leafies are the undisputed kings and/or queens of the cool weather, spring garden. Tops among those are the many, many different types of lettuces and mixes. They are easy to sow, germinate quickly, and mature very fast. The thinnings (which is an essential process) are great for microgreen salads and those can be consumed just a few weeks after planting! The only issue we’ve ever had with lettuces is the vast quantity we have all at once! That makes them perfect for a neighbor share or donated to your local food bank. Lettuces generally tend to be sensitive to heat though, so once that mercury rises they tend to “bolt” (go to seed) and become bitter. When that happens, best to pull them out and put in some of your summer crops. However, they are perfect candidates for a summer shade garden. If you’ve never tried one of those, give them a try!
Spinach is a legendary super food. It’s versatile and can be cooked, eaten raw in a salad, and blended up in a green smoothie. It’s packed with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The almost meaty texture and earthy taste of the leaves is delicous and really takes everything up a notch. The presence of the deep green leaves in a salad is the most basic and effective foodie “flex.” It lets everyone at the table know you mean business when it comes to nutrition and health.
Spinach can be a little reluctant to germinate and takes a little more time than many other things. We’ve had spinach take two weeks to come up, and it needs consistent water the whole time or it’s toast, but once you have it up it produces quickly. Baby spinach can be had just about a month after coming up and can be enjoyed all the way until the sweltering heat of summer. Unfortunately, spinach will bolt at the first real hot spell, although there are hybrids and spinach alternatives that fare a bit better. You can also plant spinach in your summer shade garden and enjoy those green smoothies all year.
Peas are an iconic spring crop. Thomas Jefferson himself used to have a competition with a neighbor of his to see who could produce the first peas of the season (he usually lost). Personally, we like sugar snap peas. They are super sweet and great on their own or in salads and don’t require shucking. We often find our kiddos ravaging the pea patch, eating pods straight from the vine. However, if you’ve never had a freshly picked and shucked pea from a spring garden, you just don’t know what you are missing! You simply cannot have an accurate opinion on the deliciousness of peas until you taste fresh. Sweet, firm, and nothing like the canned or frozen variety, fresh peas might just change your whole outlook on this noble little plant! Keep in mind though that while they like the cool weather, peas are also pretty delicate and might require some protection on especially cool nights.
My favorite way to have them is diced, oiled, and roasted in a hot oven.
Beets are some of my own personal favs, for both their flavor and their versatility. Hearty and tolerant of light frost, the tops are wonderful greens to cook up similar to spinach, and of course the roots are sweet, earthy, and gorgeous in an array of dishes, both cooked, raw, and preserved. My favorite way to have them is diced, oiled, and roasted in a hot oven. We use bacon or bacon grease (it’s 💯 our go-to veggie prep oil) but olive oil is fantastic too, as is butter, ghee, coconut oil or virtually any other preferred cooking oil (though we don’t recommend a lot of the industrialized seed oils for a variety of reasons). And though we’ve never done it, beets can be pickled and preserved, so you can save some of that bumper crop for use throughout the year!
Beans can be a bit finicky when direct sowed early, but if you can get them to take they produce an abundant crop that is early, sweet, and delicious. Around our garden, the rabbits will destroy any newly sprouted bean plants though, so if that’s a consideration for you too, throw up some fencing to keep those cuties away.
Brassica is the genus name of the family of plants that includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, collard greens, kale, and others. All of them are wonderful in the cool weather garden, however we mostly recommend the green leafies in the spring. Cabbage can also do well, but the heading nature of broccoli and cauliflower really make those better in the fall garden (or in a climate that stays consistently cool for 60+ days, like the Salinas Valley in California ). The cool weather keeps those from bolting, which is always a problem for us in the spring.
We’ve come to adore Pak Choi, with it’s stark white, crunchy stems and gorgeous deep green leaves, but there are an astounding range of Asian Greens that perform wonderfully in the spring. They also novel for a lot of people, so can inject some buzz and excitement into your spring offerings. We love these in stir frys, and have even made some kimchee with great results.
Perennials: Asparagus, Oregano, Chives
Perennials are anything that stays alive over the winter and comes back every year. The perennials that are appropriate for your location will vary, so best to consult a grower, university extension, or Master Gardener in your area.
The three mentioned above though are pretty much safe for all locations. Asparagus and chives especially are iconic harbingers of spring. Even now, in early April, we’ve already used chives on baked potatoes and in salads. The fresh zip they add to a dish, just sings of spring!
Those are our top recommendations for spring vegetables, but we’d love to hear what you like to plant in your spring garden. Let us know in the comments below and we’ll feature the most interesting crops!