Monday, June 04, 2012

Growing Vegetables in Northern Climates

I traveled out to Pinehouse (Latitude 55'30°) today and had an opportunity to see this year's community/clinic gardening project.  They were lucky in keeping some early-planted tomatoes alive, but it has been a mild week.  This made me think about the whole notion of planting times in the north.  I usually add a few weeks onto recommended planting times on seed packets, and adjust for our short season.  We are in zone 1, which leaves only the Arctic/Antarctica for a worse growing location. 

So what are the guidelines anyhow? 

Vegetable plots at Pinehouse clinic
The frost dates for Prince Albert (2+ hours south of here) are June 2 (last spring frost) to Sept 4 (first fall frost), so our season would be shorter than that.  I'd estimate about 85-90 days, (though frost is still a potential occurence at any month, so there are no guarantees).  This is important for plants that need longer seasons, like pumpkins (120 days).  You would have to start long-season plants indoors to ensure that they would produce fruit by the fall frost date.  The crop insurance maps can provide information on frost dates, but unfortunately they stop just north of Prince Albert.  I suppose that is reasonable, given that no one grows commercial crops up here in the northern forest!  Internet searches find all sorts of irrelevant information from growers that think they live in cold climates, but don't really understand the north (i.e. they may recommend planting carrots in February, but I can't find my garden under the 5 feet of snow drifts in February). 

So, in the absence of expert data on these things, the recommendations of locals is useful information.  This is a summary of what I have figured out.  Keep in mind that this only applies to plants in the ground or raised beds.  This does NOT apply to plants in pots, as those will never survive over the winter here. 

HERBS:
Winter-hardy:
  • Chives - Hardiest herb.  Perennial and spreads itself easily by seeds.  Grow some close to your house so you can easily snip some for your baked potatoes.
  • French tarragon - Winter-hardy here. 
  • Lovage - Large herb that is winter hardy here.  Tastes like celery greens.
  • Parsley - Occasionally lives through the winter.  Start indoors in a pot or sow outside in late May.
  • Thyme (English thyme; the edible kind, not the groundcover varieties) - Sometimes lives through the winter, though after a year will get too woody.  It is best to have new plants each year.  Start early indoors or sow outside in late May.
  • Mint - There is a wild mint that grows around here.  Many mints would be hardy perennials, though they are also invasive, so I'd recommend NOT planting them in your garden.  Keep some in a pot and never let it go!  
Not hardy, treat as an annual:
  • Cilantro - Not hardy in winter.  Sow early indoors or sow outside in early June.   Fantastic in salads and East Indian food. 
  • Basil - A tender herb that cannot tolerate cold nights.  Start early indoors and let it go outside after June 5.  It grows fast though, so you could also sow more seed outdoors after June 5.
  • Sage - probably not perennial here.  Start early indoors. 
  • Dill - plant seed in May, very easy to grow and will easily seed itself if allowed to.
  • Rosemary - A slow growing herb that is perennial only in warmer climates (think southern California).  It is far too time-consuming to grow this herb from seed.  Just buy a plant.  You can take it indoors as a houseplant in fall.
Rosemary brought indoors in fall.
VEGETABLES:
Winter-hardy:
  • Asparagus - One of the cold-hardiest plants that exists.  I don't grow it, but if I had years to establish a patch, I might try it.  This plant is perennial.
  • Spring/Green onions -- plant seed the preceding summer for nicely grown green onions the following June.  You can also sew in early May for green onions in the summer.    
  • Larger bulb onions - Start seeds early (April) and transplant in mid May or start as onion sets outdoors in May.   
  • Garlic - I am still practicing at growing garlic, but it seems to do okay here.  Plant as garlic cloves in fall.
  • Rhubarb - Reliably hardy. Give lots of compost and divide in early spring, if needed.
Seeds suitable for early planting (e.g. first weeks of May)
  • Beets 
  • Radishes - these really only work if planted early, as they like cool weather
  • Lettuce - plant early and replant throughout the summer for a continuous supply
  • Spinach - does well in cool weather, so plant an early spring and a fall crop
  • Swiss chard - I've seen some pretty spectacular Swiss chard up here
  • Onion seed
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes 
  • Kohlrabi
  • Turnips
  • Peas
Probably hardy, but I start early indoors in May:
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower 
  • Brussels Sprouts - I haven't tried these, but they should do well here
Tender vegetables - Start indoors for longer season plants, sow others in June:
  • Tomatoes - Must be started from seed indoors in April or early May to produce any fruit before the first frost date.  If buying as potted plants, don't plant out until after June 4.  Season lengths are 60-75 days.  Pick varieties bred for the shorter season lengths. 
  • Peppers - Must be started indoors in April or early May to produce any fruit before the first frost date.  If buying as potted plants, don't plant out until after June 4.
  • A zucchini variety sold for growing in containers.
  • Squash, pumpkins , zucchini - Must be started indoors in April or early May to produce any fruit before the first frost date.  If buying as potted plants, don't plant out until after June 4.
  • Cucumbers -  Would be best to give a head-start by starting indoors in April/May or buying as potted plant.  Don't plant out until after June 4.
  • Beans - These won't sprout until the soil temperatures reach a certain threshold.  Plant in early June as seeds.
  • Corn - My garden is too small, but this can grow here.
  • Melons - I haven't tried these, but I don't think our northern summers are very well-suited to most melons, which like long hot summers.
OTHER COMMON GARDEN EDIBLES:
  • Strawberries -- hardy, essentially biennial, and benefit from a protective layer of straw in the winter.  Bear fruit best in second year.  Root the runners to keep a continuous supply of second-year plants.  I have a day-neutral variety ("Hecker") which bears fruit over much of the summer.
  • Raspberries -- hardy, biennial, bear fruit on second year canes.

11 comments:

Under the Sun garden centers said...

Congrats! You have a beautiful blog and I enjoy reading your posts. Your kitty picture is adorable.

Clayton said...

Great job Lisa. This is a very helpful resource for the mid north gardener. Some of your comments even apply here at Saskatoon. We have had snow and frost in June (12) and frost in late August.
Some blooming going on here now in the Clematis seedlings which I hope to post soon.
I would find your information on good plant sources helpful as I know you are growing some unique alpines as well.

Clayton

Connie Paxman said...

thank you so much for the information...I live in Stony Rapids and want to start gardening..I am an avid gardener from the south...
connie paxman

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Caroline said...

Wonderful Blog Lisa! Thank you. We spend our summers in Manson Creek BC. Population 16 and 180km from the nearest paved road. We are also classified as Zone 1. A tricky area to grow in ... but not impossible! Thank you for your many tips.

Riverrider said...

Kale grows very well in zone 2b where I am and withstands the fall frosts. You might try it. It's delicious and easy to grow!

Leslie Lim said...

I love this post, and I was absolutely thrilled to see the other links that you published that go along with this topic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am happy to be a new follower. :)

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Russell MacDonald said...

Starting my first vegi garden here in the Okanagan in penticton my place has to distinct plate already. Long forgotten couple seasons. However I turned both plots with a shovel couple good signs 1 being worms 2 left over root vegi left overs. That being said soil really Sandy no black dirt. I'm from alberta used to seeing more of such. Any tips on fertilizer. I'm going for a more organic aproach I'm in the midst of putting compost worm feed spots "feed tube" I'd like to call had good yield in the past with such.. I'm just curious with such Sandy loose soil tips on organic feed, since I'm lacking rich black dirt. My garden consists mostly root vegi gonna try my hand at corn an peas as well. I have also bought bone meal fertilizer been looking into kelp meal, as well as organic kelp fermentation tea liquid fertilizer

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RonSafreed said...

I live in zone ten south Florida & we grow both cold & warm veggies Sept.-May! The three months of summer is too hot even at night 79-83 F with 91 % humidity! Warm weather veggies go into a "green dormacy" in the summer & possible in the winter as well! Cool weather veggies grow small in this semi-tropical climate! It is the same in the Bahamas,Cuba,Jamaica, Hispanola-small veggies & small bulb veggies & leafy greens small & or slender! However the sun is so direct & intence gardens can have 4-5 hours of sun & still do well! Tomatoes are off-red because in the tropics tomatoes will decrease lycopene production! BTW temperate trees grow strange in a semi-tropical or tropical climate with long whippy branches & sparce leaves & stunted growth & do a slow motion 5-6 month leaf color change & exchange or will mimic tropical trees in leaf exchanging like with the bald cypress trees! Tropical trees here many change color in the winter but the tropical leaves are mixed colors & are gaudy looking! Tropical trees change because of dryness & not temputure but temperate trees always steal the show in fall colors!BTW apple & other decidious fruits are growing now in the low-land tropics!!!!!

jennifer gutknecht said...

Hi! Our Girl Guides unit will be celebrating World Thinking Day (actually Feb 22) on Feb 28th, the theme this year will be "Grow" and we are supposed to plant a tree - we won't be planting trees, but we are wanting to plant seeds. We are in Northern Saskatchewan (Buffalo Narrows) and wondering if you could suggest seeds that would be interesting for our 60 girls (ages 5-12) to put in soil and watch grow! All of the girls will bring an empty 2L pop bottle, which we will cut, decorate and turn into planters. Let me know if you need any more info!
Thank you in advance!