One of my first lessons in growing veggies is to learn the plant’s preference for temperature. To keep it simple, there are cool season and warm season crops. Getting to know what the plant prefers determines when to buy/plant, what to buy/plant, where to buy/plant, and when to harvest/eat! In the mid-Atlantic area, typical cool season plants are anything in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, collard, Brussels sprout), lettuce, pea, kale, chervil, dill, cilantro, leek, scallions, radish, spinach, arugula, beet, pak choi or bok choy, carrot, mustard, parsnip, turnip, and Swiss chard. Some can carry on during the summer such as spring onions and Swiss chard; others “bolt” as soon as it warms up in May/June. For example, cilantro will “bolt,” that is, flower and go to seed, as it warms which is good if you want the seed but bad if you want to harvest the leaves. When the plant bolts and goes into flower/seed production stage, the leaves tend to taste bitter.
Most people associate the warm season edibles with summer itself, fresh tomato and basil, eggplant, pepper, corn, summer/winter squash, zucchini, melon, watermelon, cucumber, okra, and pumpkins.
The idea is to plant the cool season plants/seeds in mid-March – beginning of April and the warm season plants/seeds in early May – end of May in my zone 7 area. Several good ways to figure this out:
Read the seed packet or label
Read seed catalogs
Research on the internet
Read local gardening books
Visit garden nurseries and ask knowledgeable staff.
Most catalogs put their plant/seed offerings in alphabetical order but really it would be useful if you read them in order of the calendar year. My 2014 Botanical Interests catalog has “warm season” or “cool season” to the right of each plant type, making it very easy to identify. I have often thought that it would be better to cut out the pages of the plants I was interested in and re organize them to place them in order of season, not alphabetical, as a way of determining which to should start first. Then I discovered that the Botanical Interests web site allows you to sort the veggies by warm or cool season – very smart of them!
The three books I found most useful books for determining a time table are:
The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski & Jennifer Kujawski (Storey Publishing, 2010)
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Timber Press, 2013)
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, 2011)