Choosing which vegetables to grow

Favorite warm- and cool-season vegetables at a glance plus growing season basics

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COOL-SEASON VEGETABLES

Beets. Besides basic red beets, nurseries and garden catalogs offer seeds of golden yellow and white varieties. The tender young leaves are edible. Sow in early spring (or in late summer, for a fall crop). Plant seeds 1 inch apart in rows spaced 1½ feet apart, or broadcast them in wide beds; thin seedlings to 2 to 3 inches apart. Harvest 45 to 65 days after sowing.

Broccoli. Easy-to-grow broccoli bears over a long season. Start seeds indoors 6 weeks before planting time; or buy transplants. In early spring (or in mid- to late summer, for a fall crop), set out plants 15 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Or sow seeds directly in the garden, spacing them 4 inches apart; thin seedlings to 15 to 24 inches apart. Harvest 50 to 100 days after setting out plants, 90 to 140 days after sowing. Cut the heads before the buds begin to open. After the central head is harvested, side shoots will produce additional smaller heads.

Cabbage. In addition to the standard green cabbage, you can grow red and curly-leafed Savoy varieties. Start seeds indoors 6 weeks before planting time; or buy transplants. In early spring (or in mid- to late summer, for a fall crop), set plants 15 to 24 inches apart in rows spaced 2 to 4 feet apart. Or sow seeds directly in the garden, spacing them 4 inches apart; thin seedlings to 15 to 24 inches apart. Harvest 50 to 100 days after setting out plants, 90 to 140 days after sowing.

Carrots. If your garden soil is heavy, plant varieties with short roots. Plant seeds in early spring (or in late summer, for a fall crop). Sow ½ inch apart in rows spaced 1 to 2 feet apart; or broadcast seeds in wide beds. Thin seedlings to 2 to 4 inches apart. Harvest baby carrots 30 to 40 days after sowing, mature carrots 50 to 80 days after sowing.

Lettuce. Choose among leaf, butterhead, romaine (cos) and crisphead (also known as 'iceberg") lettuces. Start seeds in flats indoors about 4 weeks before planting time; or buy transplants. Set out transplants (or sow seed directly in the garden) in early spring; make successive plantings or sowings until daytime temperatures reach 75° to 80°F/24° to 27°C. Plant again in late summer and early autumn for fall crops.

Sow seeds of crisphead lettuce 2 inches apart in rows spaced 1½ to 2 feet apart; thin seedlings to 12 to 14 inches apart. Sow seeds of other lettuces 1 to 2 inches apart in rows spaced 1 to 2 feet apart; thin to 6 to 8 inches apart. Or broadcast seeds of all but crisphead lettuce in wide beds; thin to 6 inches apart. Harvest leaf lettuces 40 to 50 days after sowing, butterhead and romaine in 65 to 85 days, crisphead in 80 to 90 days.

Peas. Some kinds of peas are for shelling, some have edible pods ― and some can be harvested either way. Bush and vining types are available. In early spring (or in early fall, for a fall crop), sow seeds 1 inch apart in rows spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Thin seedlings to 2 to 4 inches apart. Set up stakes or trellises for vining types at planting time. Harvest 55 to 70 days after sowing.

Spinach. Spinach bolts quickly into flower if the weather gets too warm or the days too long. For best results, sow seeds in early spring (or in early fall, for a fall crop). Space them 1 inch apart in rows 1 to 2½ feet apart; or broadcast over wide beds. Thin seedlings to 3 to 4 inches apart. Harvest 40 to 50 days after sowing.

PERENNIAL VEGETABLES

Asparagus (Zones 1-24, 29-45). Because asparagus takes 3 years from seed to harvest, most people plant 1-year-old crowns, available from nurseries or mail-order catalogs in late winter. Space crowns 1½ feet apart in rows 3 to 6 feet apart.

Rhubarb (Zones 1-11, 14-24, 26-45; best in Zones 1-11, 34-45). Rhubarb sends up new leaves in spring and dies back in autumn. The reddish green leafstalks are the edible part; never eat the leaves, which are poisonous. Plant divisions in late winter or early spring, setting them 3 to 4 feet apart. Let plants grow for two full seasons before harvesting.

 

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