By Cindy Haynes and Emilie Justen
Iowa State University Extension
Gardening with plants that prefer the cool season is great! What is a cool season crop, you ask? In Iowa, a cool-season crop is defined as a plant that performs best during the cool weather of spring and fall.
Cool season crops can withstand light frosts and cool soil temperatures, but are often intolerant of high summer temperatures. There are many reasons to love planting, tending and harvesting a cool season garden. Plants can be planted earlier, so we don’t have to be so patient and wait until the last frost. The plants themselves are quick, too -- often producing harvestable yields before the weather turns blistering hot.
Cool season plants also offer a wide variety of colorful produce. This year’s Iowa State University Extension Home Demonstration Garden will feature the many hues of lettuce, collards, spinach mustard, chard, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, carrots, radishes, peas, pansies and dianthus. The selected cultivars for the garden will take you past cool green colors through vibrant purples, oranges, yellows and whites that will illuminate anyone’s patch of earth.
Greens, such as lettuce, collards, spinach and chard, are leafy crops that are grown for their foliage. Lettuce is eaten raw, while collards, spinach and Swiss chard are cooked and then eaten. Our chosen lettuce cultivars include leaf, romaine and head lettuce in a variety of colors. Swiss chards in magenta and gold combine healthy eats and color and brighten both the garden and your plate.
Cabbage, Broccoli, Kohlrabi and Cauliflower
These four vegetables are known as cole crops and are members of the same genus, Brassica, and species, oleracea. Cole crops have their origins in temperate and cold climates. This year we will feature cultivars that mature early or hold up well in warm weather. Traditional white cauliflower takes on purple, orange and green hues and we’ll add a unique purple kohlrabi to the mix.
Roots crops develop underground storage structure and generally have a long storage life. Our carrot cultivars feature early carrots varieties and a colorful array of orange, yellow, white and purple novelty carrots to adorn your plate. White, red and candy-striped beets offer distinct below-ground interest. Black and white radishes and daikons add interesting contrasts to the colorful palate of root crops.
Peas are members of the legume family and have nitrogen-fixing capabilities. We’ll feature different snow, sugar and snap peas in the garden to tempt your taste buds. Our pea cultivars highlight characteristics such as flavor, early harvest, ease of picking and pods without strings.
Pansies and Pinks
A cool season garden wouldn’t be complete without a few annual flowers. Sixteen pansy cultivars possess a wide variety of flower colors and sizes. The pansies are complimented with ten cultivars of dianthus or pinks. This will show that the cool season garden isn’t all about vegetables.
Iowa State University Horticulture Extension and the ISU Research Farms will host Field Days for the public to tour one of the many Home Demonstration Gardens on display. The Field Days schedule will be:
Research Farm City/Town Field Date Time
Muscatine Island Fruitland June 12 6:30 p.m.
Armstrong Lewis June 13 6:30 p.m.
McNay Chariton June 14 6:30 p.m.
Horticulture Farm Gilbert June 18 6:30 p.m.
Northern Kanawha June 25 6:30 p.m.
Northwest Sutherland June 27 6:30 p.m.
Northeast Nashua June 28 6:30 p.m.
So even if you didn’t get the chance to plant your own cool season garden this year, come check out ours!