Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cool Crop?

What is a cool crop? Should you plant one? The answers to these questions are simple. Yes! This is a fun and easy way to add muscle to your garden early. Everyone wants to plant just as soon as the spring sun shines, but the temperatures still say, no-no. Here are some vegetables that are crying out to you, plant me early...


Brussel Sprouts


Snow Peas





The list can go on. But these seem to be some of the most popular here in Utah. I have experience planting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, peas, and lettuce. I don't feel like I have the space for potatoes, I am not fond of beets, and I have just never tried brussel sprouts.

In the ground in my garden already, I have a row each of lettuce, peas and carrots. All of these I planted from seed. From the nursery, I purchased broccoli, cabbage and onion sets, and I also planted those. I think I may be a little late on a few of these plants. For instance, the peas should have gone in a little earlier.

Utah weather has been difficult this year. I am not necessarily referring to the snow. It is the overcast clouds that make it impossible for plants to germinate. If you noticed, last week while the snow was melting, steam was rising from the soil. The earth is warm.

Here are some simple instructions for starting your cool crop.

First you will need to get your soil worked well. Whether you do that with a shovel or a tiller, get the ground loose and easy to work. Hopefully you amended your soil last year when cleaned up the garden for the winter. If not, and if this is your first crop. I say go for it! Take you first step. It never hurts to learn. The only amending I would suggest is to clay soil. Clay is very hard on plants. I would say add some nutrimulch or utilite, so that your roots can grow.

If you are starting with seeds, you will need a furrow. Some people put one seed in each hole, but I do not have that kind of time, and not every seed will take hold. (Read the seed packet for germination rates, it may surprise you.) My dad taught me the long furrow way, and it works, so I am sticking to it. Next make a thin row of seeds in the furrow. Cover that over with dirt, and then add the mulch to the top of that. Simple! Seems silly to explain. If you have a very high rate of germination, just move along the row and "thin" the plants. This is especially helpful for carrots.

If you are starting with a plant, whether from the greenhouse or one you started yourself, (bravo! if you started it yourself) make sure the plant is hardened off. Dig your small holes in the pattern of your choice, then plant. Make sure to interrupt the root system. (also called scoring) If you do not, the roots will continue to grow in a circle and your vegetables will not grow very large. This is true of anything root-bound. Cover with dirt, tamp down softly and mulch! (Tamping insures that there is not excess air around the roots that will dry them out. But remember to only tamp gently.) Once again, simple.

Each of these different ways of planting your cool crop will require watering. For proper germination and growing, the soil will need to be warm and moist. But don't leave them in standing water. The seeds will rot and never germinate, or they will be very unhealthy.

If you have never grown a cool crop before, you may be asking yourself if it's really this easy. And yes, it really is. Here are a few extra steps you may want to take.

Some gardeners will put black plastic on the ground before they plant their cool crop, and then put it down after the plants are in the ground, making sure to cut holes where the plants will come through. This can surely give your plants a boost in this weather. The black plastic will heat the ground and add a little jump to whatever sun that does show up. It also inhibits weeds. That alone makes this step really worth it! I personally don't do this. Partly because I don't like plastic on the ground, especially in the heat of the summer, where it can heat the ground too much. Also, for me it is just another step, and I rarely have that much time.

I would really like to give a shout out to MULCH! This step is often forgotten, but is so important. Mulch will keep your plants moist and warm. And if you buy Nutrimulch, it will also fertilize. It breaks down and makes the soil good for this year and next. Most mulch can be purchased in bags or by the truckload. Don't forget your mulch.

Beware of the hard Utah frost! It happens and we all know it. Even with a cool crop, a hard Utah frost will kill them dead. If you hear of an oncoming frost, take these few steps. First, water. This is the "old farmer trick." Water all of your plants. Then carefully cover them with an old sheet. Never use plastic. If your plant is too tall for a sheet, put a tomato cage around it and pull an old pillow case over the cage. Remove the sheet the next morning, and they plants should be just fine.

I'm going to try something fun this year: worm casings! (Basically worm poop.) Yeah! Doesn't that sound horrible? I am totally excited. I found some people in West Mountain that actually sell worm casings. I am going to go over to purchase a big bucket full. I have heard that if you plant it in each hole, your plants will really take off.

I really hope that everyone will take this opportunity to get some cool crop planted this year. This week! I will spend a bit of time over the next few weeks going over the individual needs of each plant. If you have questions about any one plant in particular, please leave me a comment. If you have different experiences than I have had, please do share.
Happy planting!

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