Planning for Year Round Harvest

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With a little planning, you can harvest fresh vegetables from your own backyard most of the year. Vegetables can be grown outside in SE NC from late winter through late fall. If you are willing to invest in a low cost cold frame (pictured right) or unheated tunnel house, harvesting through the winter is easily possible. The key to growing a productive vegetable garden in all seasons is knowing what to plant when.

The Gardener’s Calendar
Vegetable crops can be divided into two groups based on the temperature range they need to grow. Warm season crops will not tolerate frost and are grown outside during frost free months. Cool season crops grow best in the cool temperatures of fall and spring, and will tolerate some frost. For both types of vegetables, some are usually set out as young plants, often referred to as transplants, while others are best sown as seed directly into the garden.

Knowing when to plant different crops allows gardeners to easily develop a planting calendar for year round harvest. Use the following dates to plan your 2011 vegetable garden.

January – March. January is a great month for ordering seeds and getting organized for the year to come. Believe it or not, February is the month to start planting hardy crops outside. Potatoes and garden peas, along with their close relatives snow peas and sugar snaps, should be planted in the ground between mid February and mid March. Carrots, parsnip, lettuce, spinach, mustard, rutabaga, radish, and turnip seed can be sown direct in the garden from mid February to early April. Transplants of onions, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and collards can be set out during this time as well. If you want to start your own transplants of these crops sow them in an unheated cold frame in January and February. March is the time to start seeds of eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes indoors to have transplants ready for spring.

April – June. It is safe to plant warm season crops like cucumbers, tomatoes, southern peas, and lima beans outside after the last average frost date, which is April 15 for most of our area, though earlier right along the coast. A few warm season crops will tolerate very light frost and can be started a little earlier. These include green beans, sweet corn, squash and zucchini, which can be sown in the garden beginning in late March. Other warm season crops are frost sensitive and should not be planted outside until all threat of frost is past. These include melons and okra, which can set out as transplants or sown direct, peppers, eggplants, and sweet potatoes, which are set as transplants, and peanuts, which are seeded directly into the garden in late April.

July – September. By August, cucumbers and squash have usually succumbed to pests, corn in finished, and disease problems have taken out most tomatoes, though melons are just coming into harvest. This is also the time to start crops for the fall garden. Sow green beans, carrots, beets, swiss chard, kohlrabi, leeks, rutabaga, parsnip, turnips, squash, zucchini, and cucumbers from mid August to mid September. Tomato transplants for a fall crop can also be planted. Start broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard, cabbage, lettuce, and spinach seeds in mid August and transplant into the garden in September, or purchase transplants from a garden center. Spinach and lettuce can also be sown directly into the garden in September.

October – December. October is the time to plant garlic from cloves and onion from seeds directly into the garden. Both crops will grow through winter and be ready to harvest in late spring. Late summer planted cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes, as well as any peppers and eggplant that are still hanging on will continue to product until frost, which usually occurs around early November. Hardy crops like collards, kale, and cabbage will usually continue to produce through December or later. The growing season for less hardy cool season crops like broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and cauliflower can be extend by covering these crops with cold frames or growing them in an unheated tunnel house.

Learn More
If you have questions about growing vegetables contact your local Cooperative Extension office. In Pender County call 259-1235, Mon – Fri, 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.