Organic farming can offer a sustainable source of income on practically any scale, from small backyard enterprises selling a small amount of products during peak season to large scale commercial farms operating thousands of acres at a time. Regardless of what size of organic farming business you want to run, understanding which seeds germinate at the coldest temperatures will help you expand sales all year round. Seeds that can handle cold germination allow you to sow more crops outside during early spring. It also expands your greenhouse and indoor growing opportunities without increases your heating expenses just yet. Try these cold germinating seeds for your organic farming and gardening plans in 2019.
Spinach is a high value organic farming crop in both nutritional and sale value. It’s easily harvested at an early stage for baby spinach, providing a fast turnaround and helping you avoid disease and pests that arrive later in spring. The seeds are particularly amenable to cold temperatures, with the fastest germination occurring as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds will continue to germinate reliably at up to 75 degrees F, so warm days and coverage with floating row covers won’t interfere with germination.
However, germination does slow down to a week or longer at the higher end of the temperature range. This is why spinach responds best to early spring planting while it’s still cool.
Early Spring Cover Crops
Even the smallest organic farming operations for self-sufficiency can benefit from cold season cover crops. Cover crops are plants grown to cover the soil and return nutrients to it. Many cover crops break down to add organic material, while others fix nitrogen or draw up deep nutrients from the subsoil thanks to long tap roots.
Many cover crops prefer cold temperatures for germination, allowing you to plant an early spring cover and get great growth before your main summer crop is seeded or transplanted. Bell beans, a type of broad or faba bean, are particularly suited to early spring sowing. They can germinate at just above freezing temperatures and can withstand temperatures as low as 25 degrees F after emerging. Austrian winter peas also thrive in cool spring temperatures to produce plenty of biomass to lighten up heavy soils. They germinate at 40 degrees F and above, regrow after frost damage, and survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F. The tips can be picked and marketed as pea shoots, or the entire plant can be tilled in as temperatures warm and growth slows.
Don’t forget about hardy Brassica greens that pull double-duty as cutting crops for baby green mixes and valuable cover crops. Turnips, mustards, and less common orachs and chards all germinate in temperatures around 40 to 50 degrees F and grow well despite mild frost exposure.
Cabbage and Cauliflower
Starting some organic farming crops, such as cabbage and cauliflower, from seed and transplanting is the only option when heavy disease or pest pressure makes it impossible to direct seed. For areas where these problems are less common, these two members of the Brassica family may be best planted as direct seed while soil temperatures are still around 50 degrees F.
While both plants germinate slightly faster at 60 degrees F, they also face far less pressure from insects and fungus at cooler temperatures. The opposite is true in the greenhouse or seed starting trays, but cooler temperatures can result in stronger and heartier seedlings when you’re direct seeding to take advantage of a mild early spring season.
Lettuce and the related arugula varieties and endives are essential organic farming crops because of their easy cultivation and fast spring growth. To get a jump on the season, start sowing lettuce seeds as soon as soil temperatures reach a steady 35 degrees F or higher. This is just above freezing, so lettuce germination may take a week or more at this temperature. However, direct sun or heat trapped by layers of plastic can speed up germination even on cold days. Germination drops off again at 60 degrees F, so early spring truly is the best time for establishing beds of fast growing lettuce that can be harvested into the beginning of summer.
Green Onions and Scallions
Finally, don’t forget about specialty products like scallions and their common cousins green onions. Both are great for rounding CSA boxes or boosting secondary sales. Germination is fastest for these seeds around the 45 to 55 degrees F mark, but they can emerge reliably at temperatures as low as 35 degrees F. Start seeding them as soon as your soil becomes workable to have bundles of scallions and green onions ready for market in as little as three weeks. They’ll keep germinating in heat up to 95 degrees F, so you can likely keep crops in cycle for the full growing season with some careful planning.