Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Edible Gardening the Cold Zones

First of all I would like to thank my cousin for inspiring me to write this article. She enjoys gardening and eating healthy food in the windy city of Chicago!!! I don't think I have the grit to last a whole winter there so when I come visit it will be in the summer months! I am impressed with how long they have braved the cold wind.

When you have a limited time to grow food there are many ways to extend your growing season. Consider what plants you eat the most of and will use most frequently. We grow most of our salads, flowers, herbs and many vegetables in our garden. With proper planning and a simple understanding of gardening there is no reason gardeners in colder parts of the country cannot grow their own food.

The first thing I would determine is what exactly is most important to grow for myself and my family? Here I would make a list of things that are expensive and not as available as you would like them to be.
Some things we enjoy growing:

  • lettuces
  • arugula
  • chard
  • peppers
  • herbs: rosemary, thyme, basil, lemongrass, parsley, sage, dill, oregano and many others
  • beans and peas
  • okra
  • tomatoes
We are getting better at growing our own food and it does make a huge difference in the family meal budget.

Now once you have your list of things you are interested in growing you need to understand that the best way to maximize your growing time in a cold climate is to know what plants grow when. I like using:
Sprout Robot, and for companion planting information my favorites are WikipediaGolden Harvest Organics and Mother Earth News.

Ok so you are beginning to see that planning is actually going to account for a large portion of the time you spend gardening. Fret not! Once you get the hang of it it becomes second nature. In permaculture I have read several times that you should plan for 30 hrs before you do an hour of work. I have found this to be relatively accurate based on the level of knowledge and experience you have. It also helps to keep a garden journal of what is going on especially in a place that has a limited growing season. This way you can look back at last year and see what worked and what didn't. You just repeat what works and try new methods for what did not.

The next thing I would recommend for avid cold weather gardeners is to look into having a basic light set up. This will help you get the most out of your growing season and is a relatively easy thing to do if you have the space. The internet is a marvelous place and here is an excellent explanation of how lighting works and some pictures to give you a good idea of what you need to do to get the most out of the growing season.

Now the plants we like to grow are the ones we use the most and find to work the best in our climate. I like talking to other growers, visiting local farms, checking with the local agricultural extension to see what information and short courses they have available and of course one of my favorites is reading reading reading whether online or books. You can never pack enough information in and no one will ever know everything! It is important that you make a commitment to learning if you want to maximize your ability to produce plants and food.

Irrigation and fertilization are extremely important so that your plants can grow as fast as possible to reach their potential for you before the cold cold kicks in and messes up your game. Make sure that when you make your plans you factor these things into the equation as they can determine the difference between success and failure.

Another option is going indoors with lights and hydroponics. That is not a suitable option for all but does work. Eventually I will write about indoor growing techniques and the lovely world of hydroponics.

Finally I would consider researching thoroughly about cold tolerant plants, varieties and perhaps look into perennials that die back and re-sprout in the spring...

To be perfectly honest I think that many of you who have a long cold season are extremely lucky to be able to grow some of my favorite vegetables better and for longer periods of time than in Florida, where I am, or growing some things that don't even grow here at all. Here are just some of the plants that fit into this category: turnips, many of the Allium (onions, leeks, garlic etc...) family, asparagus, Cole crops or Brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage etc...), Spinach, and Carrots come to mind. So don't think that we have got it all over here in the warmer states. Do a few weeks of 90+F in 80% humidity with skeeters biting you and you might think twice about that white Christmas! ;)

I have done some research and looked at all of the following links which have good beginner and some advanced cold weather gardening information and tips.

Fine Gardening has some awesome little pointers in this article!
U of I's Vegetable Gardening Guide is a FANTASTIC article and quite detailed.
The Old Farmer's Almanac can be counted on for great relevant planting dates, frost dates, planting times and much much more. A hard copy is not that much if you enjoy the information.
Chicago Botanic Garden here is a great simple and fast how to of gardening....

If there are any link issues please contact me and I will get them fixed ASAP.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this and I wish you all happy gardening! Good for mind, body and soul! Again I would like to thank my cousin for encouraging me to write this article as it pushed me outside my comfort zone as I have only spent some time many years ago growing in the UK where there is a shorter growing season than here.

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