Time to start planting a cold crop veggie garden

Oh happy day!

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.

The back fence of the back garden with arbor

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.


  1. I’ve never tired inoculant, but have heard from several sources that it helps germination and makes for healthy plants. I think I’m going to try it if it isn’t too expensive.

  2. In Southern NH our frost free date is around May 15, so April seems a little early to me. But it’s probably a longer growing season in OK. Can you tell me why you like De Grace and Alaska peas? Also, have you ever considered pre-sprouting peas to increase the germination rate. I’m considering it, but want to know if it is worth the effort.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Bill,

      For NH, even souther NH, it is too early to start planting a cold crop garden. I have never pre-sprouted peas. My germination rate is good so I’ve never considered it. I like those two varieties because they are fast producers. In Oklahoma, we are always fighting the heat, and I choose spring varieties with early maturation dates. I don’t know if pre-sprouting would help you. Your springs are much more wet, so I’m guessing it might. Perhaps, your peas rot in the ground? Also, have you considered using pea inoculant? It helps germination rates. Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you have the best veggie crop ever this year.

  3. I’ve long loved seed catalogs and gardening books; they are a great way to wile away the cold winter days. Now the internet adds another way to enjoy “virtual” gardening when we can’t get outside for the real thing.
    Hang in there, the last freeze is just around the corner!

  4. I’m ready to plant! Our traditional planting day for early crops is March 17th, but we can have a frost as late as mid-May. I suppose that means we can enjoy these cool season crops for longer than you can?

  5. Great list. Just taught a class on beginner veggie gardening to a group of 15 last week in a local park community garden. We planted potatoes, onions, lettuce, peas, collards and radish. So glad it is starting to be the beginning of spring. Looks like possibly the same for you!

  6. Chiot's Run says:

    Planting potatoes & peas on St Patties day is the norm here, although since we just got another 12 inches of snow on top of the couple feet we still have I’m thinking spring will be late in coming around here. I’ve actually be holding off planting anything because I’m predicting a late spring. I sure don’t want to end up with a ton of seedlings and nowhere to put them.

    Love the gate on your garden!

    Thanks so much for the nice words. I can see why you’re waiting. I got a lot in this afternoon. We’re supposed to have rain and snow tomorrow. Ugh, I say, and yuck also applies.~~Dee

  7. Pam's English Garden says:

    Motivating post, Dee. This year I am growing from seed for the first time. Wish me luck! Pamela

    Pamela, I do wish you luck, but you’ll do fine if you have a light source for them. Just don’t expect your seedlings to look like the beefed up ones in the store. Yours will catch up once they’re outside in the ground.~~Dee

  8. Tatyana says:

    Peas will be planted first here. I’ve never planted them so early, but I want to try. There is nothing to lose.

    Yes, Tatyana, you can do it. If they get hit, you can always replant.~~Dee

  9. mary says:

    Thanks for the great seed sources. Some are new to me! I am not in a good gardening mood at the moment because we can’t seem to get rid of the water puddles everywhere! Even my brick walkway “squishes”. More rain today! Does this mean a dry summer?

    Gosh, Mary, I hope we don’t have too dry a summer. I hate droughts, but it sure is wet right now isn’t it with all the snow. I think Oklahoma has the weirdest weather ever.~~Dee

  10. Willi says:

    We are growing a lot of the same vegetable varieties this summer! I’m interested to see how they do for you since we have such different climates. Thanks for sharing your list of seed companies, I’ve never ordered from Shumway. I’ll have to check them out!

    Hey Willi, great minds think alike. I loved your post on canning BTW. I like Shumway because it is cheap.~~Dee

  11. I have all my seeds already but the thought of actually planting them – well, I haven’t quite gotten there yet… But, eventually, I do plan to sow lettuce and peas. Last year I never got around to removing the lettuce after it bolted. It went to seed and I’m hoping that it will have saved me the effort of actually sowing seeds this year – I’m on the lookout for little volunteers springing up in the raised veggie beds!

    GJ, you may have saved yourself the trouble. I’ll be interested to see what volunteers come from your seed.~~Dee

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Gosh Dee I can’t think of even cold crops when it is 14F. UGH The wind just blows those thoughts right out of my head. I will try to get some peas in soon. When the sun or maybe I should say if the sun shines again.

    I know, it’s been cold Lisa. Brrr. I can’t imagine how cold it is up where you live.~~Dee

  13. Micah says:

    I think I’ll give the seed-starter greenhouse another try. I had problems with the sprouts falling over last year, but maybe things will be better this year.

    I’ll be getting all my seeds online, but no surprise there, considering that I help run an online plant marketplace 😉

    Yes, Micah, that’s completely understandable. 🙂 ~~Dee

  14. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I wanted to plant lettuces this year but the cool season will be over before we know it! Maybe I’ll go ahead and sow what seeds I have and use them as baby lettuces.

    Yeah, Cindy, y’all have an even shorter early spring than we do.~~Dee

  15. Beets! [I’m a new convert for beets.]

    Although ‘cold crops’ are different for me. I tend to plant my version of cold crops late summer vs. early spring, so veggies can enjoy cold, mild autumns vs. unpredictable mountain springtime.

    These resources are terrific, Dee. Thx for sharing. Now I’m in the mood to do a little shopping…

    Thanks Kate. I love beets roasted and served atop good lettuce. Adding some balsamic vinaigrette and toasted nuts, and wow! Of course, if you can have some crumbles of goat cheese too, that’s especially nice. You’re smart to plant your crops in the fall though being in the mountains.~~Dee

  16. Gail says:

    So many helpful resources…Thank you~I saw an article in Fine Gardening Mag about growing potatoes in a plastic tub…Now that has me intrigued. I will plant arugula and other salad lettuces. It is still cold here…In the low 20s at night Brr is right. gail

    Yes, us too. Too cool for a lot of things, but I hope you try the potatoes in a can idea. I’ve always wanted to do that.~~Dee

  17. Cyndy says:

    Oh my – April 20! Around here, the old timers say nothing is safe from frost til after Memorial Day. Happy planting!

    Yes, we’re luckier than most.~~Dee

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