Even if you haven’t planted a thing in your garden yet, it is not too late to plan for an abundant fall harvest, and some good summer eating. Even in zone 4b, June is a great month to plant.
It’s a good thing for me, as I have almost nothing in the ground yet, except for perennials, such as berries, asparagus and herbs. This spring has been unseasonably wet here, and on the few sunny days we’ve had, our rototiller has broken down! (I thought that statement truly merited an exclamation point.)
Fortunately for me, the urge to tear my hair out in lamentation is calmed by the knowledge that not all is lost. There is still time to plant. I am also soothed by the existence of a greenhouse containing pots and flats of tomatoes, peppers, squashes, cucumbers, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and more herbs. As soon as the ground is prepared, I shall pop these starts into the soil, so I guess I do have a garden of sorts begun.
The Merits of a Garden Journal
So how do I know what is still possible to plant? I keep a garden journal, of course. Checking back on brief notes and dates jotted down three years ago, I find that I didn’t plant potatoes until June 12, as I was teaching school until the first week of June. Two years ago, I replanted corn on June 11, because we had a killing frost on June 9. I didn’t set out my winter squash starts until June 15, and I still harvested baskets heaped with lovely orange squash.
My notes reassure me that there is still time to plant potatoes, green beans, corn, radishes, lettuce, carrots, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, mixed salad greens, kale, chard, broccoli, raab, and snap peas.
I can’t recommend a minimal garden journal too highly. Even a few notes with a sketch of your garden showing where you planted each crop is invaluable.
A Brief Note on Crop Succession
In fact, many crops that you wish to store in a root cellar or leave in the garden late into the fall, can be planted in the first week of July. I will plant just a single row of carrots and beets for summer eating, and plant a later crop for winter, as these crops tend to get woody if left in the ground too long. Plant lettuce for summer eating, and later plant head lettuce for storage. Plan to replant radishes and salad greens. Kale can stay in the garden even during hard freezes in the fall. One year, I even planted leaf lettuce in August.
It is useless to plant some crops, such as corn and cucumbers, without protection if the soil has not warmed up. The slower rate of growth will overcome any advantage you think you are gaining by planting earlier in cold soil. This poses a problem where I live, as the average summer soil temperatures are quite cool. Average nights are 45 degrees F. Our soil never does really warm up. This is where successful zone 4 gardeners gain their mystique. We have our ways.
Strategies for Short Season Gardens
You have several options for harvesting abundant crops in short growing season regions. I discuss some of them below:
Option # 1: Provide Physical Protection
You may use devices made of glass or plastic to keep cold winds off your plants, collect heat during the day, and protect your plants from light frosts. Such devices include cold frames, row tunnels (also currently known as hoop houses), a product known as Wall-of-Water sold at garden stores, and even milk jugs with the bottom cut out, so that you can use them as a cap over individual plants.
Peppers, cucumbers and melons will benefit from a black plastic mulch to attract heat to their roots. Try to provide them with tepid water, not cold, to speed their growth. To see an idea for using cans as reservoirs in the center of cucumber and squash hills, look back at my previous blog “Ode to the Old-timers.”
If you don’t like black plastic, that is understandable. A friend is going to try peat moss this year, since it is dark. This gave me the idea of mixing the peat moss with ashes from last winter’s fireplace. Ash is alkaline and peat moss is acidic. I thought the two of them might give a balanced pH, and the ash will darken the mixture. Use lots of charcoal and water. Of course, you can let me try it first and report back, if you don’t want to experiment.
Option # 2: Plant Varieties that are Cool Soil Tolerant, or that can Mature in Short Seasons
I have mentioned before that the varieties you choose are of crucial importance. I plant a cool-soil tolerant variety of corn called Hookers Sweet Corn. Seeds of Change, www.seedsofchange.com, describes it as “an early variety grown for over 50 years by Ira Hooker of Olympia, Washington. Flavorful, white 5-6” ears mature to dark purple. Great for small spaces. Prefer[s] a mild summer climate.”
Seeds of Change lists other varieties of corn that are cool-soil tolerant.
For potatoes, I have chosen early varieties, such as Dark Red Norland and Superior. Both are short season, scab resistant and store well. They are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Johnnyseeds.com .
For green beans, I like to plant Early Contender. These are the earliest ever open-pollinated green bean, maturing at 49 days. They are tender and reliable. These are available from a variety of seed houses now. They can be found at Vermont Bean Seeds, a branch of Totally Tomatoes, and now Gurneys carries them, Gurneys.com
I planted Black Beauty zucchini this year, ready to eat in 45-50 days. This variety is also widely available. You might check out Seed Savers Exchange, www.seedsavers.org. This stupendous organization carries other great varieties, and for more access to heirloom seeds, you can become a member and get their extended members’ catalogue.
I plant Hungarian Wax peppers and Sweet Banana peppers, because these are the only open-pollinated peppers I know of that are able to tolerate the cold conditions where I live and yield a bumper crop. When I lived at a lower altitude, just a few miles from here, Early Jalapeno did well, but the malingering cold up here knocked it out three years ago, and I haven’t tried it since. I like to order my tomatoes and peppers from Totally Tomatoes, http://www.totallytomato.com/.
Don’t Rule Out the Hybrids
I am not a purist. I do prefer to plant open-pollinated varieties because I am trying to establish which varieties can be grown for seed in my region, but if the season is late and I don’t have time to order specific varieties, I will plant hybrid short season maturing hybrids, just to get a crop this year. There are some dandies out there.
For example, I have planted Cool Breeze cucumber, a cool-soil tolerant hybrid that yields abundant crops of pickling cucumbers that are tasty fresh, as well as marinated or pickled. I have also grown a hybrid variety called Little Tyke. I just love the name, not to mention the fact that they are ready to eat in a whopping 35 days. These can be found at Totally Tomatoes, too, http://www.totallytomato.com/.
I have planted Packman Broccoli, a prolific broccoli that can be harvested at 48 days, and a 51-day hybrid cabbage called Stonehead.
Gurneys lists a hybrid corn that is cool-soil emergent labeled Northern Xtra-Sweet. I haven’t tried it, but I would if necessary.
There are hybridized early peppers that look intriguing as well.
No doubt you will discover varieties, open-pollinated or hybrid, that are suited to your own region and purposes.
Option #3: Plant Varieties that can be Grown in Pots and Brought into the House or Greenhouse in the Fall.
Some varieties are suited for container growing. Tiny Tim tomato, for example, only grows about 15 inches tall, and yields small cherry tomatoes. They are delicious and if they don’t ripen outside, bring them inside in the fall. They are also open-pollinated and this year, I am going to collect seed from them.
Another container cherry tomato I am trying is Red Robin, maturing in 55 days, and supposed to be perfect for windowsills, hanging baskets and patios. It only grows 8-10 inches.
I might add that, even if you won’t be using these little cherry tomatoes for making your own paste or sauce to can, they do dry nicely in a food dehydrator. I dried Tiny Tim a couple of years ago, and they were quite tasty in pasta dishes and bread, not to mention a low-cal cottage cheese dip with other dried veggies and herbs.
For a larger tomato, though still smaller, I am going to try growing Silvery Fir Tree tomato in larger pots. It is recommended for containers.
Bushy Cucumber is touted as being suitable for container growing. It matures in 45-50 days and has a compact growing habit, with vines that are five feet long. I believe that a more suitable choice might be Spacemaster, which has vines that are only three feet long.
Minnesota Midget is a cantaloupe that one catalogue says is useful for container growing. The last two varieties are found at Seed Savers Exchange, http://www.seedsavers.org/.
These are just a few of the varieties that can be grown in containers. They may also be kept in a greenhouse that is properly vented and cared for in the summer.
I have discussed a number of strategies that can assist you in having a successful garden year, even as the season grows late for planting in the north. As I write this blog, the rain is pouring down and my rototiller is in the shop being repaired. Please pray for sunshine soon. In the meantime, I will be transplanting tomatoes into larger pots, starting lettuce, peas and greens in flats, and placing seed potatoes into boxes of shallow soil to get them started rooting. This is where one cultivates faith as well as vegetables.
May you have a blessed summer and harvest.by