Brrr . . . it’s cold, but at least the sun is shining for a change. Oklahoma’s average, last freeze date is April 20, but we can get a freeze even later as shown in this Oklahoma Climatological Survey map. April is a long time coming, but with the sunshine comes hope that spring is hopping closer every day.
While you wait to plant your tomatoes, squash and green beans, there is something else you can do to pass the time. Start an early spring vegetable garden with delicious, direct sown seeds of cool soil loving vegetables like: spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, carrots, turnips, beets and even bok choy.
Now is the time. Onion sets and Potatoes can also be planted now; just remember to get them in before St. Patrick’s Day. For a full list of cold weather vegetable planting dates, see the HLA-6004 Garden Planning Guide from the OSU Extension Service. Because we have such a short cool season in a normal spring, it is best to start with cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower plants. You can probably find these locally if you didn’t already start seeds indoors. I’ve seen them at Lowe’s and Farmer’s Grain in Edmond, Oklahoma. If you live in another part of Oklahoma and want to share where you’ve found your cole crops, please comment and let us know.
You can also start your tomato and pepper seeds indoors. I’m still trying to decide if I just want to buy plants this year. If I wait much longer, I will have made my decision without any effort.
Have I enticed you to look at the seed catalogs, or to scour the local nursery for seeds? There are seed racks in nearly every store, but if you want to try something truly unique, catalogs are the way to go. Many of these are also online. Here are a few to get you started.
- Renee Shepherd at Renee’s Garden is known for her great seed combos and unusual varieties. She also wrote two nice books on what to do with all the yummy produce you’ll harvest, . Recipes from a Kitchen Garden was the first, and More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden was the second. I bought these two books when I was a “newish” gardener, and they helped me to eat my veggies. One of my favorite seed collections is her children’s garden. I also like the three sisters. Over the years, I’ve planted similar gardens to these, and enjoyed them very much.
- Botanical Interests is another great place for flower and vegetable seeds. I’ve written about them before and recently gave away a seed collection. For my cold crops, I’m trying Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce, Ruby Red/Rhubarb Swiss chard, Italian Lacinato kale, Baby Little Finger carrot, Red Sails lettuce, and Early Wonder beet.
- The vegetables of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds pose like 1940s pinup girls in this extensive catalog. Even if you order online, be sure to request a print catalog too. In my cool season garden, I’m growing: De Grace snow peas, Extra Early Alaska shelling pea (Grandma Nita’s hands down favorite), Extra Dwarf pak choy, Lollo Bionda lettuce, Petrowski turnip, De Morges Braun lettuce and St. Valery carrot (a freebie).
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is known for its heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. I find that they are very generous. The two packets I bought for the cold season garden are packed full of seeds. This year, I’m trying Tatsoi mustard. I grew it last spring and found it mild and delicious. I believe I also ordered some garlic from them, but it won’t ship until later in mid-summer.
- Along the same lines is the venerable Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization started in 1975 which according to their website “. . . is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. We permanently maintain more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties . . . .” If you want some heirloom veggies, they are worth trying. From them, I will buy some of my potatoes, because they have so many from which to choose. I still haven’t decided which ones.
- For an old-time catalog feel and really good prices, you can’t beat R. H. Shumway’s. You’ve got to like a catalog which opens with “Grow your own groceries!” From them, I plan to buy mache, also know as corn salad, which has a sweet, nutty flavor.
Those are some my personal favorites, but the list of catalogs goes on and on. Now, I’m wondering . . . what will you plant in your cold-crop vegetable garden this year if you have one? Inquiring minds want to know.