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Gardening and More: Plant cool-weather vegetables, starting this month

LEAFY GREENS — Lettuce is one of the vegetables that can be planted this month. If you plant them in a container, you can bring the container inside if we get a cold snap. Photo from Burpee Home Gardens.
HAMBURG — The rule of thumb is that gardeners should wait until Memorial Day to do most of our planting. That’s because we need to wait until the danger of frost has passed, for most plants, and most plants flourish in hotter weather, too.

But there are cool-weather vegetables that you will be able to plant soon, according to Julie Emerling, who is in charge of herbs and vegetables at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, located at 4484 Clark St. in Hamburg.

The vegetables that we’re talking about today should be planted well before Memorial Day because they like the cooler weather and can take some light frost.

The plants are available at Lockwood’s, in the middle or end of April. They generally can be planted at the end of April or beginning of May.

You need to wait until the ground is dry enough to be worked; you can’t plant in mud. You also need the weather to be warm enough.

While the plants can take some light frost, if it is going to get below 27 degrees Fahrenheit, you want to protect the plants. Before the temperature drops, cover the plants with a cloth, milk jugs, pails or other containers, to retain the heat.

Seeds are available at Lockwood’s, too. You need a very sunny window or grow lights, to start the seeds inside, Emerling said. Move the seedlings to a cooler but protected spot, such as a basement or garage, before you transplant them outside.

For some of these vegetables, you can get two crops: Plant one in spring and one at the end of summer. As a plant finishes, you can put something else in that spot. Place the fall crops wherever you have an open space. It’s good to rotate your crops and plant things in different spots, Emerling noted.

Spinach and lettuces
Plant these directly from seed, into the ground, when the soil can be worked. Emerling suggested planting them in a container. If the weather gets too cold, you can bring the container inside.

You can plant lettuce every two weeks, to get a continuous crop, she said. The plants may not like the hot weather, but if you keep them well watered and a little bit shaded, they will grow.

Kale
Kale can withstand a fairly heavy frost. You can buy kale plants in the middle or end of April.

Fred Safford, who works with trees and shrubs at Lockwood’s, said that he has started kale outside, in mid-April, from seed.

Peas
For peas, you plant the seeds directly into the ground. Lockwood’s carries snow pea and shelling pea seeds.

Broccoli
If you plant it in the beginning of May, you’ll harvest around the end of June.

When you cut the main head out, the plant will produce side shoots that you can also harvest, Emerling said.

If it gets hot out, the broccoli will bolt, added Safford. Bolting is when the plant prematurely produces a flower and goes to seed.

You can get two crops with broccoli. Plant the fall crop at the end of August or beginning of September and you’ll harvest in about 1 1/2 months, depending on the weather. It can withstand a frost.

Cabbage
Plant cabbage at the beginning of May and you should harvest in about two months. However, bigger varieties of cabbage take longer to grow and won’t be ready to harvest until August or September.

If you want a second crop of cabbage, you can plant one of the smaller, early varieties, in the beginning of September.

If we get a bad rain, the head could split. The cabbage will be fine to eat; it just doesn’t look as appealing, according to Emerling.

Cauliflower
If you plant in spring, you will probably be able to harvest in mid-June. You can get a second crop if you plant seeds at the beginning of August. You’ll probably harvest in late September, depending on the weather.

When the plants are getting big and the head starts to form, tie up the leaves, to protect the head. You can use a zip tie, twine or string. This will keep the head white and prevent it from turning purple, and it will also keep bugs out.

Brussels sprouts
You can only get one crop with brussels sprouts; they’re very slow growing. Plant in late April or May and harvest in late October or November.

“I had some last year, but my cows ate them,” said Emerling, who lives in the Boston hills. “Apparently [cows like brussels[,” she said, “because they ate them all.”

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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