Planting for the cool season continues this week. Lettuce, kale and cabbage can be planted now and enjoyed later in the fall. These are also plants that can be left to grow through the winter, adding food and color to your garden in the winter.
Lettuce is fun to have in your garden. This is something that should be planted sequentially… meaning plant some now, then add more every couple of weeks through October. This will give you lettuce that is ready to harvest over a longer period, instead of all at once. Lettuce can tolerate a frost, but can be killed in a hard freeze. I plant lettuce through the fall with the intent of growing some over the winter. Some years my lettuce will die in cold weather, some years it grows all winter long. I enjoy lettuce in my garden so much that I think it is worth the gamble, and plant it every year.
Lettuce germinates in soil temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees. Temperatures over 95 will kill lettuce, so you want to wait until our weather cools down before planting in the late summer or fall. Plant seeds in rows, planning on plants that are 6 to 10 inches apart. Lettuce seeds are very small, and it may be easier to plant seeds thicker, then thin them out when they sprout.
There are many varieties of lettuce to choose from, but there are two main types of lettuce… head lettuce or leaf lettuce. A head of lettuce does best when you harvest the whole plant at once. Leaf lettuce can be harvested one leaf at a time and can be kept in the garden all winter long, and you can pick the lettuce as needed. Leaf lettuce is generally ready 75 days after planting, but some head lettuce can be picked as early as 55 days. Lettuce is best eaten as soon as possible because it can wilt quickly. It can be refrigerated, but usually does not last longer than two weeks.
Greens are a great thing to have in the garden through the winter. A few weeks ago we planted collard green seeds, and they are already up and growing. This week we will start our kale seeds. Kale can be planted anytime in September or October, and it grows pretty quickly. Seeds planted now will be ready to start November. Kale will grow slower in cool winter weather, and it can be kept in the garden all winter long. The plant can withstand frost, and while it can be nipped in very cold weather, the cold tends to sweeten the leaves. The larger, outer leaves can be picked one at a time, so you can harvest some and keep the inner part of the plant growing to keep producing.
Kale plants are fairly large, and the plants need room. Plan on having the plants grow about a foot apart from each other. Plant the seeds between ¼ inch and ½ inch deep. Seeds deeper than ½ inch will not germinate.
Cabbage is a cool season veggie that can be planted in either the fall or early spring. When planted in the spring it is best to use transplants, but in the fall, directly sowing seeds works well. Cabbages get pretty big, and they need a lot of room. If you crowd them together, they tend to grow smaller… so plant them a foot or so apart.
Cabbage seeds planted now will mature in November. Once we get to November and beyond, our weather will be mostly cool, and growth will slow down. If it stays cool, there will be no hurry to harvest, and cabbages can actually stay in the ground all winter long, and you can pick them as needed. Cabbages are very cold hearty, and can withstand temperatures down to 18-20 degrees.
If we get a period of warm weather in the winter, you will want to watch the plants for bolting. That is when they grow tall instead of fat. If this happens, it will be best to harvest the plant and enjoy what you can, even if it is not full size.