Vegetables you can grow in your garden (Connecticut)

It’s not too early to start thinking about raising your own veggie crop. Why not get a major head start to learn what it’s all about and precisely what your efforts will have to be? Now’s the time to make your way around all the local nurseries to inquiry about the plants they can supply you with … and at precisely what time of year. It’s a slow time for many nurseries, so why not pick their brain while you have their attention?

Here’s some ideal plants and strategies to consider before you venture out:

Most members of the cabbage family flourish in Connecticut. Cool-season members of this “cole” family of plants include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi. They prefer sun, but can take some shade, especially in mid-summer. These leaf & stem crops appreciate large amounts of compost, manure or other nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Consult with a professional with regards to quantity.

Many cooking greens—some of which overlap with the cole family—are particularly well-suited for Connecticut gardens. These include spinach, kale and chard. At my house we love kale. We cook it on a cookie sheet until it’s crisp & dry. We then grind it down and sprinkle the fine powder on everything we eat. It’s not for seasoning flavor, instead it provides valuable vitamins for us all through the winter. Spinach and kale can be direct-seeded into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked, sometimes up to two months before our last frost date. Experts will tell you that you can sow spinach and kale one-half inch deep, and thin to 12 inches apart after germination. Wait until two or three weeks before the last average frost date to sow chard and thin to about 8 to 10 inches between plants. If you don’t get a chance to plant until Memorial Day, buy seedlings at any of our local nurseries and set them 12 inches apart for spinach and kale, and 10 inches apart for chard.

The classic “green bean” works well in our southern New England, as does the yellow wax bean. You can grow either bush or pole beans. Lima and soy beans take longer to ripen and may be a bit of a risk here. If you do attempt them, look for seed packs with the shortest number of growing days.

Peas are one of the few crops that allow us to get our hands dirty in early spring. Weather permitting, you should be able to plant peas around St. Patty’s Day (March 17th for you non-irish folks). Pea varieties range from bush to pole type, and include sugar and snap varieties. All do well here in southern New England. Plant twice, for early summer and late fall crops.

Beets reward their growers two ways with the classic red root and with their leafy tops, which make great cooked greens. Look for seed potatoes that best meet your needs, whether you want small, “new” potatoes during the growing season, or “keepers” that work best for root cellar storage. Other Connecticut-friendly root crops include carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips.

Just about every type of squash does well in Connecticut, from summer zucchini to winter’s butternut squash. Our advice would be to choose winter squash varieties with the shortest number of days to harvest to make absolutely sure they’ll ripen before the autumn frost occurs.

And of course, lettuce grows well in our area, provided you can protect it from the hot summer heat. For spring and fall crops, plant lettuce seeds directly in the ground in a sunny part of the garden, or transplant your seedlings there. Mid-summer plants appreciate being shaded by taller crops or the north side of a structure. Consider a mix of Romaines and Boston lettuce. Your best bet is to search seed catalogues and/or nurseries who stock dozens of other varieties that will do well in our state.

Most of the familiar perennial vegetables—and some of the forgotten ones—thrive in Connecticut. Because perennial vegetables are permanent garden plants, give them their own garden, or plant them along a border of your annual vegetable garden.

See you at the nursery!

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