14 Can't-Miss Cool-Season Edibles

Discover tasty crops that grow best in chilly weather.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Burpee.com

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Blackberry Farm ©2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

©2013, Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

©2013, Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla)

Count on chard to inject color into your early-season landscape. The brightly-hued stems and deep green leaves blend effortlessly into flower, herb and vegetable gardens. The entire plant is edible: stems and leaves. Use it fresh, or chop and freeze. Use chard to stand in for spinach, although it needs a little more cooking time. Leaves are frost-tolerant. As summer heats up, chard doesn’t bolt, making it a great green for warm weather as well.

Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes)

Tuck kohlrabi into the early spring or fall garden to enjoy its quirky appearance. Also known as cabbage-turnip, kohlrabi brings a mild turnip flavor to the kitchen. Enjoy it raw with dip, chopped into salads or shredded for coleslaw. For best flavor, harvest bulbs while they’re small—less than 1 inch across. To harvest, pull bulbs from soil and trim away leaves and roots. Pick a few young leaves to toss into salads.

Radish (Raphanus sativus)

Meet one of the veggie garden’s fastest crops. Radishes are ready to harvest 22 to 30 days from sowing. They don’t need much room and thrive in small gardens or containers. The cylindrical French types mature faster than the round traditional roots. Harvest radish greens to add a peppery zip to sandwiches or salads. Radishes grow best in well-drained soil that’s had some compost added. Keep plants moist during the growing cycle.

Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala)

Kale is the new go-to veggie for dieters, health-conscious eaters and juicers. This leafy green is the most nutrient-dense vegetable and works well raw in salads, roasted to make chips, chopped into soups or steamed as a side dish. Leaves withstand extreme cold. Kale can easily be the first and last vegetable you harvest each year. Look for varieties with leaves in shades of purple, burgundy and green. Dinosaur kale has a puckered leaf texture.

Peas (Pisum sativum)

Homegrown peas serve delectable sweetness you won’t find in the grocery store. Why? Peas start converting sugar to starch a few hours after they have been picked. Eating peas fresh from the garden gives you a taste treat that’s tough to beat. Plant seeds well before last chance of spring frost. Choose edible pod peas, like snow peas or snap peas, or grow garden or English peas (nonedible shells).

Turnip (Brassica rapa var. rapifera)

Cool temperatures are the secret to mild flavor in turnips. Plant this chubby veggie in early spring or late summer. Harvest young roots (2 inches across) for fresh eating in salads. Pick larger roots for storing (3- to 4-inch size). Don’t be quick to toss green tops of turnips on the compost pile. These leafy greens bring big nutrition to the dinner table. Eat them raw or cook them like greens. Let plants experience light frost for the sweetest roots. 'Snowball' (pictured here) is a white heirloom variety.

Strawberry (Fragaria)

Fill your garden with the eye-catching goodness of homegrown berries. Strawberries are easy to grow—just give plants well-drained soil and full sun. Look for the small-fruited alpine types to enjoy a harvest season from mid- to late spring into early summer. Day-neutral types ripen small amounts of berries starting in late spring and continuing all summer long. Ounce for ounce, strawberries pack more vitamin C than citrus. Work these beauties into your mealtimes by slicing onto salads or cereal, or in whipping up smoothies.​

Leaf Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Welcome spring with early lettuce crops. Sow seed or seedlings in beds or pots as soon as soil can be worked. Sow again in late summer for fall crops. Plant a variety of leaf types for colorful salads. Oak leaf and romaine or cos lettuces withstand heat well. In cold-winter regions, toss seed onto snow for early spring pickings. Protect seedlings from slugs and bunnies.

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica)

This nutrition-packed veggie is a snap to grow. Just plant broccoli in early spring or late summer so it can bask in cool temperatures (around 60 degrees F). When harvesting, slice stems at an angle to prevent rot. Keep an eye out for caterpillars; spray Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) if you spot any. Harvest smaller side shoots as they mature. These smaller heads are perfect for stir-fries or soups.

Green Onion (Allium fistulosum)

Also known as scallions, green onions are a time-honored early-season crop, almost a rite of spring in cold-winter regions. Tuck onion sets or seeds into soil as soon as it can be worked. Make sure soil is fertile and well-drained. Harvest green onions as soon as bulbs start to form. A thinner scallion brings a milder taste, so if you’re trying to avoid an overpowering onion taste, pull green onions when they’re still on the skinny side.

Beet (Beta vulgaris)

When you grow beets, you’re raising two cool-season crops: beet greens and beet roots. The greens bring a colorful, nutritious tang to your salad bowl, and the roots pack sweetness. Roasting coaxes the greatest sugary flavor from roots. Pick greens when they’re 4 to 6 inches tall. Don’t make more than two pickings if you intend to harvest roots. Pull roots when they’re 1 to 2 inches across.

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Celebrate spring with a crop of homegrown asparagus. This perennial vegetable produces delectable spears in early spring, followed by large ferny leaves that fatten roots to fuel next year’s harvest. Asparagus lives for years, so it’s important to start with well-prepared soil. Add plenty of compost to create a fertile foundation for plants. Tuck crowns into soil a month before last frost in spring.

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis)

Cauliflower is a demanding cool-season edible, thriving only in temperatures below 70 degrees F. As heads start to form, they must be blanched—protected from the sun—to remain white and mildly-flavored. Wrap outer leaves over heads and hold in place with clothespins, rubber bands or garden twine. Also be on the lookout for varieties that yield green or orange heads.

Mustard Greens (Brassica juncea)

Mustard greens offer a quick crop that yields nutrient-rich leaves perfect for cooking Southern-style or adding to salads for a tangy zing. The secret to tasty mustard greens is evenly moist soil. When plants experience drought stress, the mustard flavor intensifies, bringing on the heat. Frost sweetens leaves. If you garden where killing frosts don’t occur, plan on harvesting mustard greens all winter long.