Beyond Kale – 28 Cold-Hardy Vegetables to Grow

Perennials are plants that come back year after year from a single planting. This makes them a great space investment in your garden so, let’s take a look first at cold-hardy perennial vegetables, then we’ll go over some of the best annuals.

  1. Rhubarb – Rhubarb is a must have in northern gardens because it grows so well in colder climates, to say nothing of the many delicious recipes for rhubarb. Only the stalks of the rhubarb plant are edible, the leaves are toxic to humans. Cut the stalks close to the ground and discard the leaves. You can harvest about 1/3 of the stalks at once. If you keep harvesting and do not let the plant go to seed, rhubarb will keep producing.
  2. Sorrel – One of the first plants to come up in the spring. As with rhubarb, if you keep the buds cut so it doesn’t go to seed, you will be able to harvest fresh green leaves all summer. It tastes very similar to spinach when cooked, although a bit more sour. Sorrel can be planted under trees as it will come up before the tree has leaves, and, in the summer, it doesn’t mind a bit of shade. Sorrel can also be planted in early fall to provide fresh winter greens with low tunnels.
  3. Asparagus – Needs a good, steady water source, but is a real treat fresh from the garden! Growing this one from seed takes many years so most gardeners start with 3-year old roots for transplant. Technically, this is a spring crop, but I’ve included it here because it’s a perennial. The colder your spring, the deeper asparagus should be planted; this will prevent the plant from coming up early and being killed by heavy spring frost. It can safely be planted up to a foot deep. Asparagus should not be harvested before it is well established, which will take a few years. Once established you will be able to harvest asparagus for many years. Asparagus needs lots of room and it will grow into a tall (3-4 feet) plant. Mary Washington is a good heirloom variety for short-season climates.
  4. Chives – More of a seasoning than a vegetable, but a wonderful perennial that looks beautiful in the garden – even planted among flowers. Chives come in a variety of flavors and can be planted in several spots, e.g. full sun for early greens or shade for later greens. Fall planting with a bit of protection can yield fresh chives all or most of the winter.
  5. Sunchoke or Jerusalem Artichoke – These can grow up to about 8’ in height and tend to spread, but, they produce the best tubers when topped at about 18” then hilled up with rotted manure & mulch. After the tops have been killed by frost, the tubers will be at their best. They look similar to sunflowers but the root tubers are the edible part. Plant in early spring and harvest a few roots in the fall. As long as you leave some in the ground, they should come back. Alternatively, you can dig up all of the roots and save some in your root cellar for planting the next spring. Bear Valley Purple is an excellent heirloom variety that has been preserved among the Pennsylvania Dutch for well over 150 years.
  6. Horseradish – This is a VERY aggressive plant that will need to be well contained or it will take over your entire garden (think container or walled off underground), but, it is also a cold-hardy perennial that many people enjoy. And it has the added benefit of medicinal uses.
  7. Walking Onions – These delightful onions grow new bulbs on the ends of the flower stalks and will happily replant themselves, and spread! They will provide both onions and onion greens as long as you don’t dig them up.
  8. Carrots – These favorites can (should?) be left in the ground over the winter because the cold temperatures raise the sugar levels in the carrots to create a natural anti-freeze. In areas such as this where there is often below zero weather, carrots should be mulched over with straw to keep them from freezing. Carrots go to seed the second year they are in the ground, but, some of them can be dug over the winter for wonderful, sweet fresh carrots. Scarlet Nantes is particularly well adapted to cold and is an heirloom variety. Another excellent heirloom variety is Paris Market; it is especially good in containers and rocky soil. Carrots are not perennials, but will re-seed themselves if allowed to do so.
  9. Spinach – also not a perennial, but can withstand cold temperatures fairly well and will often come back in the spring without re-planting even if it does freeze. Spinach does very well even in northern Idaho and Canada through the winter with a little protection. It will keep growing well if sheltered by a low tunnel. The crinkly leaf varieties do better in cold than the smooth leaf varieties. Tyee is an heirloom variety that does well in cold and can often be successfully started as early as March if using low tunnels. It will bolt to seed in summer’s heat, but, in so doing, replants itself for winter harvest. New Zealand and Bloomsdale are two heirloom varieties that are both cold-tolerant and slow to bolt in summer’s heat. They make excellent fall plantings continuing to grow slowly even under the snow.
  10. Garlic – Should be planted in the fall, 1 clove per hole. If the temperature drops below 0, it’s a good idea to mulch it or cover with a low tunnel. Early Purple Italian is an excellent, mild heirloom variety that does well in both cold & hot, produces 8-12 cloves per head, and has excellent storage qualities.
  11. Leeks – closely related to garlic and another one to plant in the fall. The darker green/bluish green ones survive cold best, but, again, if the temperature will be below zero, it’s best to give them some protection. One big advantage to leeks is that they are not sensitive to the number of hours of daylight so, with a little protection from severe cold, they make an excellent winter garden vegetable. Giant Musselburgh is a popular heirloom variety that matures in about 80 days.
  12. Collards – Well known to southern gardeners, the collard plant is actually more cold-hardy than the famed kale. Blue Max is a favorite variety for both high yields and cold tolerance. Again, if the temperature will be dropping to zero or below, give it some protection with either straw or low tunnels. Vates is another excellent heirloom variety that is both cold & heat resistant.
  13. Parsnips – Root vegetable that is best harvested after frost brings out its sweetness. Half Long Guernsey is a shorter heirloom variety that is well suited to rocky soils such as we have here.
  14. Broccoli – Tasty, easy to grow, packed with nutrients, and frost tolerant. If you leave the leaves after harvesting the top, many varieties will produce multiple smaller heads. With planning and a bit of luck/protection, you may get 3-4 crops of broccoli per year. De Cicco is a popular heirloom variety that matures in about 48 – 60 days from spring transplant and is especially good for freezing. Plant in late August or early September for fall/winter harvest. Low tunnels can increase how late you can harvest.
  15. Lettuce – Leaf varieties provide color and nutrition and can be cut numerous times, harvesting daily. Flame and Baby Oakleaf are two popular heirloom varieties that are both cold-tolerant and slow to bolt. Like spinach and chard, lettuce grows more slowly during the winter, but with low tunnels, it can often be harvested all winter long.
  16. Cabbage – Long a staple in home gardens, Early Jersey Wakefield is an heirloom variety that produces 3-4 lb conical shaped heads with wonderful flavor. Start it indoors and transplant about a month before last frost. Also can be grown over-winter with low tunnel protection. Matures in 60-75 days from transplant.
  17. Calendula – an edible flower that adds color to your garden and helps to keep some pests away as well as being fairly cold tolerant.
  18. Radish – another garden and salad staple, Early Scarlet Globe is an heirloom variety that does well in shallow soil and is ready to harvest in 3-4 weeks after sowing seed. White Icicle is a long, slender, white heirloom variety that is excellent for spring/fall/winter harvesting.
  19. Pansy – another edible flower that is a beautiful addition to both garden edges and salads, and it tolerates cold fairly well. With a little protection, it will often flower again in the spring after providing color through the fall.
  20. Peas – A cool season crop that often also produces lovely edible flowers, although, if you eat the flowers, you won’t get the peas! British Wonder is a popular heirloom variety of shelling pea and Dwarf Gray Sugar is a delightful heirloom edible pod pea. Both mature in about 60 days. Peas can germinate in soil temps as low as 40oF.
  21. Swiss Chard – related to beets, but grown for the leaves, 5 Color Silver Beet is an heirloom variety that will provide lots of color in your garden along with the edible leaves. The color is in the stalks and larger veins. Fordhook Giant is an heirloom variety with white stalks and veins. If allowed to go to seed, Swiss Chard will usually be happy to re-plant itself the following year. Swiss chard when cooked tastes very similar to spinach, but the leaves are significantly larger. Chard grows more slowly over the winter, but can even be harvested from under the snow or by using low tunnels
  22. Kale – the best known of the cold hardy vegetables, kale is not one to be sneezed at when it comes to nutritional value, or purported health benefits. One cup of fresh kale has only 33 calories, but packs a whopping 10302 I.U. of Vitamin A, 80 mg of Vitamin C, and 547 mcg of Vitamin K. That’s more than double the US Daily Values for each of these vital nutrients from that cup of greens. Kale’s sweetness, like several others, is greatly increased by our friend old Jack Frost. Scotch curled is an excellent heirloom variety for a winter garden. When temperatures drop below 20oF., kale should be mulched or protected by low tunnels. Avoid picking the terminal bud to keep the plants producing. Small, tender leaves can be used in salads. Large leaves (veins removed) can be cooked like spinach or added to soup/stew. Recommended varieties include Vates, Red Russian, and Winterbor.
  23. Cauliflower – pretty much the same info as broccoli, but different nutrients.
  24. Brussels Sprouts – need 90-100 days to mature, but flavor is improved by cool weather, so plant late summer.
  25. Chinese Cabbage – needs about 85 days to mature, but flavor is improved by cool/cold weather.
  26. Kohlrabi – best planted in August, Kohlrabi is very hardy and only needs 50-60 days to mature. Both the leaves and the bulbous stem are edible. This is another good source of winter Vitamin C having 62 mg per 3.5 oz serving. The taste and texture of Kohlrabi is very similar to broccoli stems or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter.
  27. Asian Greens – this category includes such delights as mizuna and tatsoi which can be good fall crops, maturing in 60 days or less, and can be protected with low tunnels for harvesting fresh greens most or all of the winter.
  28. Arugula – another excellent and nutritious salad green that does well with fall planting and takes 60 days or less to harvest, but can be extended with low tunnels.

One thought on “Beyond Kale – 28 Cold-Hardy Vegetables to Grow

  1. Pingback: FALL – TIME of HARVEST & NEW BEGINNINGS | My Musings on Many Things

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