If you are starting a vegetable garden in Massachusetts, you are probably wondering what to plant. With dozens of vegetables to choose from, it can be overwhelming to narrow down your list.
Of course, there is other research to be done, such as when to start seeds, and whether to start them indoors or outdoors. Lucky for you, I decided to do the research for you!
Some of the best vegetables to grow in Massachusetts are cool weather crops, such as carrots, onions, peas, potatoes, and spinach. With these five vegetables, you have some starches, some greens, and some vegetables that store well for extended periods.
As promised, I will lay out the vital information you need to grow these plants, including how to plant, when to plant, and when to expect a harvest.
What Vegetables Grow Well in Massachusetts?
To give you a summary, let’s start off with a table that tells you what you need to get started growing carrots, onions, peas, potatoes, and spinach.
Some notes on the table entries:
- Under “Sow Method” in Table 1, direct means to plant seeds directly in the garden; transplant means to start seeds in a container indoors, and then move the plant to the garden later in the season.
- Under “Start Date (BLF)” in Table 1, BLF means “before last frost”. So, for carrots, the “3” would mean that you should plant carrots seeds 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. You can find the expected last frost date in your part of Massachusetts by entering your zip code here, on the Old Farmer’s Almanac website.
- Under “Space” in Table 2, the number represents the space in inches between planted seeds. For example, carrot seeds should be planted 2 inches apart in a row, and onions should be planted 5 inches apart in a row.
Table 1: Sowing Method & Start Date
Table 2: Seed Depth & Spacing
Table 3: Times to Sprout (Germination) & Harvest
Carrots are a great cool-weather vegetable to grow in Massachusetts (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5a to 7b). They are a little sweet, and add a nice dash of color to your plate (usually orange, but there are other colors!)
You have lots of options when it comes to carrots. You can find carrot varieties in just about any color! This makes them fun for the kids to grow and harvest.
Carrots are perfect for slicing up to put into soups or stews on those cold New England nights. You can also slice up carrots to put into a stir-fry, steam them as a side dish, or just snack on them raw.
Once harvested, carrots will keep for 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator. If you store carrots unwashed in sand, they will last 5 to 6 months!
You also have the option to leave carrots in the soil until you are ready to harvest them. Of course, you should not leave them too long, or else they will get eaten by pests, or ruined by rot.
If you have garden soil that is sandy and smooth, then you have the perfect place to grow your carrots. They like smooth soil that is free from obstructions, such as rocks, roots, or hard clumps of dirt.
If your soil is not smooth, I would recommend sifting it to remove any debris before planting carrots. Otherwise, you will end up with carrots that are cracked, split, or deformed.
Onions are another great choice if you want a cool-weather vegetable to grow in Massachusetts. Onions vary in size, and they vary in flavor from sweet or mild to spicy.
There are also lots of options for colors: you can find onions that are red, yellow, green, purple, or white.
Onions, like carrots, are perfect for soups (like French onion!), stews, or stir-fries. You can also use them to make chili, which is a great option if you are also growing tomatoes in your garden.
Onions can last for several months after harvest. In the past, I have harvested onions in September and still had usable onions in spring (March and April) of the next year!
Of course, the shelf life of onions will vary depending on the type. Sweet onions will not last as long as “spicy” onions. Also, keep in mind that taking the proper steps to store your onions will make them last longer.
The most important thing to remember is this: do not remove the “paper” skin until you are ready to use the onion! One great way to keep onions fresh is to tie them to a rope (known as braiding) so that they can hang in the air. When onions are stacked on top of each other, they tend to rot more easily.
If your onions do start to sprout, you can still use them for cooking! Just chop up the onions as usual, and chop up the green sprouts, which will give a nice flavor to your food.
Onions do not grow very deep down into the soil, so you can get away with growing them in a shallow raised bed if you like. Just make sure that the soil is free from obstructions, such as rocks, roots, or other debris.
When choosing which onions to grow, keep in mind that there are three types of onions: long day, short day, and day neutral. Here are the basics of what you need to know about how day length affects onion growth:
- Short day onions need 10 hours of daylight to produce bulbs, and they perform best in the Southern U.S. (Zone 7 and warmer).
- Long day onions need 14 to 15 hours of daylight to produce bulbs, and they perform best in the Northern U.S. (Zone 6 and colder).
- Day neutral onions produce bulbs regardless of day length, and can perform well anywhere.
Before ordering onions online or buying a seed packet at a store, be sure to check out what type you are getting! If you want to grow huge onions, check out my article that will tell you everything you need to know!
Peas are a fine choice of cool-weather crop to grow in Massachusetts. There are three basic types of peas that you can grow:
- English peas (pods are not edible!) – you can shell the peas and boil them as a side dish, or use them for split pea soup.
- Snow peas (flat pods that you can eat!) – you can use the pods in a stir-fry, along with your carrots and onions.
- Sugar Snap Peas (a cross between English and Snow peas!) – you can shell them like English peas, or use the entire pod like Snow peas.
Peas will not last as long as carrots or onions after being harvested. However, if you pick them every day, you will encourage the plant to produce more peas.
If you plant peas at different times (staggered planting), then you can increase the harvest window for peas. Peas love to climb, so let them crawl up a fence or trellis – they can grow to several feet tall at maturity!
Potatoes are another cool-weather crop that grows well in Massachusetts. They come in all sizes and colors, including red, white, yellow, and purple. Potatoes provide a hearty source of starch and are good to have in the pantry, due to their versatile use in the kitchen.
Potatoes will last a long time in storage, as long as you store them properly. Keep them in a dark, cool place (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees Celsius) and they can last 2 or 3 months.
If your potatoes start to sprout, don’t worry – you can cut those parts out and still use the potatoes for beef stew, mashed potatoes, shepherd’s pie, or as a side dish.
Even better, you can plant a sprouted potato (or parts of a potato) to grow a new plant that will produce potatoes! If this sounds like something that you want to try, then check out my article on growing potatoes that have sprouted.
Spinach is the last cool-weather crop to round out our list, and it is a great choice for growing in Massachusetts. Even with the cold weather in this state, spinach can hold its own, since it can survive a frost!
Spinach does not store a long time, but if you keep picking it, you can harvest for many weeks straight. You can use spinach instead of lettuce in salads, and you can also add it to soup to give it a nice boost of nutrients. I love to steam spinach or fry it with chopped garlic, sliced onions, and olive oil.
Spinach seeds do not last a long time, so you will need to plant them in the year you buy them. However, they germinate in about 6 to 10 days, so you will have spinach growing in no time! If you want to speed up the process and learn more about it, you can read more here.
If you are just starting a garden in Massachusetts, you cannot go wrong with these five cool-weather vegetables. Of course, some honorable mentions in my book are broccoli, tomatoes, and peppers, which can also do well in Massachusetts.
I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information. Now get back to gardening, and enjoy your Massachusetts vegetable garden!