Direct Seeding: Cold Tolerant Crops

Spring is here, the weather is beginning to warm up a bit, and the weeds and native plants have begun to grow! We talked about direct seeding peas and spinach in March, and now it is time to think about direct seeding other cold tolerant crops! Plants that are cold tolerant can handle a bit of cold weather, and many can handle a light frost. Greens like kale, arugula, swiss chard, and lettuce can be seeded now, as well as root crops like carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips.

Before you begin to seed, you’ll want to make sure your garden is ready. Weeds have probably begun to sprout up, so make sure to pull any weeds for a nice, clean start. It helps to start with a flat, level surface in your garden: if the garden is uneven, it may cause seeds to germinate (begin to grow) unevenly, which can affect your harvest, and may cause you to have to fill in empty spots later in the season. Gently rake your garden bed to even it out, or simply use your hands to move the soil around. 

When you are ready to seed, the easiest way to start is to use your fingers to make a small trench in the soil. Most of the seeds you’ll be working with now will be small, so don’t make the trench too deep – an inch deep should be enough.

Place or sprinkle your seeds into the trench – crops like arugula, radishes, beets, carrots and turnips can be about an inch apart. Kale, swiss chard, and lettuce can be an inch apart if you want to harvest baby greens (leaves that are small and tender), but should be at least three inches apart to grow full size plants. Remember, it is always best to seed too much and thin (pulling out plants that are too close together) once they have sprouted – you can thin arugula, radishes, beets, carrots and turnips to three inches apart, and thin kale, swiss chard, and lettuce to six inches apart.

When you are done putting the seeds in the trench, gently push the soil back into the trench to cover the seeds. Give the soil a soft pat to make sure you are getting good “seed to soil contact” – this means that the seeds are touching the soil, not any air pockets that may be left after you moved the soil around. 

You may want to water the garden when you are done seeding. If the ground is still very wet, don’t worry about this. When you are watering, use a watering can or a hose with a spray nozzle – watering with too much pressure may cause the seeds to move around or wash away. You should also make sure the water doesn’t puddle. If the soil needs more water, but puddles are forming, give the water time to soak in, and come back to water a bit more later.

When your plants begin to sprout, pay attention to the weather. Even though these are cold tolerant crops, a very heavy frost or snow might damage them. You can look back to our post on March 19th for more information on protecting plants from cold weather.

Get ready to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of your spring garden! Happy seeding!