If you live in an area that has cool, short summers and have trouble growing a garden, here’s a few tips that will help.
First, what is a cool weather area? If your last frost date in Spring comes after April 15th you probably live in a cool weather gardening area. If your tomatoes are not ripe until late August, you live in a cool weather gardening area. Some examples are just where you would expect them to be, San Francisco, Seattle, Lake Placid, NY, the High Plains states. If you live in a gardening zone of 4 or below, you live in a cool weather gardening area. And if your summers have cool nights and are short, you live in a cool weather area.
As you are aware, it is difficult to have a garden in some of these areas. But with a a little planning, you can have a successful garden.
Here are a few tips:
1. Choose the proper plants. You can not grow Okra in Seattle. Or any other plant that requires hot days and warm nights. You can grow tomatoes in cool weather but if you choose the wrong variety you will not have ripe tomatoes until the first frost of fall is approaching. One of the tomato varieties that will grow in cool weather is the “Stupice”. It ripens in about 60 days and can tolerate cool nights. The point here is that you must be more careful in your plant selection than the lucky folks that live in Atlanta or Sacramento.
To find the proper plant varieties, go online and search for cool weather vegetables or flowers. You will find a wealth of information on selecting cool weather plants. Many of these varieties may not be available locally so you will have to order from seed companies online.
2. Plant at the proper time. One of the biggest mistakes cool weather gardeners make is planting too early. You should check the soil temperature before you plant. The air temperature is a poor indicator of when to plant. Most plants will require a soil temperature of 60 degrees, minimum.
You should start your seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before you plan on planting outdoors. Be sure to set the seedlings outdoors in the shade for an hour or two each day for 4 or 5 days before transplanting so the plants can adjust to the environment. Allow the plants to be exposed to late afternoon or early morning sun for 30 minutes the last 2 days.
There are, of course, some cool weather vegetables that may be started outdoors after the last frost. Lettuce, Boc Choy, turnips and peas do well in cool weather. Even carrots may be planted directly in the garden in cool weather.
3.Tips on warming the soil early. There are several ways to warm the soil earlier than nature will do alone. Planting in raised beds will give you an earlier start. Planting inside old tires or in hills will provide warmer soil. One of the best ways to warm the soil is to place a sheet of black plastic over the garden area. The plastic will warm the soil and retain the heat. Many garden shops today sell red plastic designed specifically for early tomatoes. Just place the plastic over the planting area a week before planting. Cut a small hole in the plastic to transplant your tomato seedlings and leave the plastic there all summer. One caution: plastic will not compost for many (hundreds?) of years and adds nothing to the nutrient value of your soil. So, be sure to remove it in the fall.
Sunny areas next to a wall, fence or garage generally have higher soil temperatures, so take advantage of this when possible. Just take care that the area is not one where the fence or wall shades the area more than it allows sun. South facing areas generally work well.
Finally, should there be an unexpected late frost, be sure to protect your plants by covering them. You can use an old blanket, plastic or newspapers. Just be sure to remove the cover when the sun comes up and the temperature rises.