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Five easy-to-grow cool-season crops for beginners

Published on April 3rd 2020
A close up of a flower
There is nothing quite as satisfying as growing your own vegetable garden. Many might think that vegetable gardening is reserved for the warmer months, but actually, autumn in South Africa is the perfect time to get your winter vegetable garden going.
There are numerous benefits to growing veggies during winter. For instance, snails and pests are not as prevalent as in the warmer seasons. Vegetables also do not need to be watered as often in lower temperatures.
A blue bird sitting on top of a wooden fence
If you do not have a large space for growing your favourite vegetables you can opt for growing veggies in containers or grow bags. All you need is a sunny position, deep, friable and well-loamed soil, and protection from strong winds and frost.
A close up of a coffee cup
We’re going to dig into five of the easiest cool-season crops to grow, ideal for the beginner vegetable gardener or those who’d prefer a low maintenance veggie patch in autumn and winter.
These cold-hardy vegetables can be grown from seed in mid to late summer to harvest in autumn and winter. The warmer weather encourages germination and helps to mature the seedlings before the cold of winter arrives. You can also opt for buying starter plants (plugs) for transplanting into your garden in early autumn.

1 | Spring onions

A pile of hay
A must for your salads and soups, spring onion is easy and inexpensive to grow. Compared to other members in the family, spring onions grow faster and timely planting will guarantee an early harvest in the last weeks of winter. Be sure to select a variety that is cold hardy. Seeds can be sown in early autumn for a harvest in late winter or early spring.

Spring Onion 'Winter White Bunching'

Allium cepa 'Winter White Bunching'

Tip | Spring onions can also be regrown by chopping off the green top, placing the white bottom stubs in a clear glass of water and leaving it to resprout in a sunny windowsill. Check out the post below by @lizz_pather to see her success with this method.

2 | Swiss chard

A close up of a green plant
Beta vulgaris var. cicla and Beta vulgaris var. flavescens
Swiss chard does not only grow well during summer but is also a tough leafy green that can withstand very low temperatures of winter. Plant your spinach 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost arrives. Leaves are ready for harvesting from 55 to 60 days after your first planting.
The best thing about growing Swiss chard in your cool-season vegetable garden is you can enjoy continuous harvests for several weeks after the first frost date in autumn. To encourage leaf production, harvest outer, older leaves first and harvest frequently.

3 | Kale

A close up of a piece of broccoli
Speaking of tough leafy greens, kale is an extremely resilient cool-season crop and even turns sweeter in colder weather. Whether grown in raised beds, containers or in-ground in the garden, kale is a must hast have. Kale matures fast in fertile soil and should be kept moist and given a regular dose of high nitrogen plant food. Plant kale 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost arrives.
In the kitchen, kale makes a great substitute for spinach and can be used in salads, stews, smoothies and stir-fries. Read more about kale in the article below.

4 | Carrots

Carrots grow well in cooler temperatures as long as they receive sufficient water, and are fairly cold- and frost resistant. When growing carrots it is very important to consider the quality and texture of the soil. Carrots need loose, well-draining, soil rich in organic material. Most carrots take 50 to 70 days to reach maturity and should be planted 8 to 10 weeks before first frost.

5 | Fava beans

Fava beans are a must-have crop in the winter vegetable garden. They can be planted as a green manure to cover bare and resting soil, and the flowers, leaves and seed pods are good for eating through winter and spring. Plant 3 to 6 weeks before first frost.
Tip | After harvesting the beans, cut down the above-ground parts and leave the roots to decay in the soil to allow the nitrogen-fixing bacteria to work their magic.

What are you growing in the vegetable garden during the cooler months? Share a post using the hashtag #CoolCrops

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