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eBook - Gardening - Short-Season Vegetable Gardening

eBook - Gardening - Short-Season Vegetable Gardening

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Published by: rose166 on Nov 13, 2009
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PNW 497
A Pacific Northwest Extension PublicationUniversity of Idaho – Oregon State University – Washington State University
acific Northwest gardeners may find thegrowing season where they live too short togrow certain vegetables. Air and soil tempera-tures may be lower than optimal for plantgrowth. Untimely frosts or snow, combined withlow humidity and excessive wind, make it neces-sary for the home gardener to use special prac-tices to get the best production. The techniquesoutlined in this publication will be essential togrow most vegetable crops.To successfully grow vegetables in short seasonareas, you will need to become a weatherwatcher. Information is available on weatherradios, cable TV stations, and local newspapers.These should be monitored to anticipate adverseweather conditions such as local frosts. Equipyour garden with an accurate high and lowtemperature recording thermometer to chartdaily extremes. Obtain a number of high quality,dial type soil thermometers. Place the thermom-eter probes in your garden soil at rooting depth.The temperature of your soil will indicate whatseeds and plants can be planted, and how muchheat is available under plastic mulches and plantcovers.In order to get started in vegetable production,determine the length of your frost-free growingseason. It can be as short as 21 days. Remember,the growing season may be 20 percent shorter orlonger than average, and some years are betterthan others. Don’t let conventional local wisdomdiscourage your gardening adventures but realizethat local experience is useful in defining what’spossible. (See EXP 494, “Spring and Fall FreezingTemperatures and Growing Seasons in Idaho”and CIS 844, “Frost Protection for the HomeGardener.”)
Choose the warmest spot possiblefor your garden.
Choosing the best garden site is critical for suc-cess in vegetable gardening in areas with shortseasons and cool climates. Even a small change intemperature can make a difference during springand fall frosts. Garden site selection affects windexposure, temperature, and humidity. Windremoves heat radiating from the soil, dries outplants, and causes plants to close their stomates(tiny leaf openings) to conserve water, thusreducing growth potential. Humidity can raisethe temperature slightly by acting as a heat sink around plants.The garden site should be in an area that receivesfull sun and provides protection from the windwindbreaks such as vegetation or buildings. Thesouth-facing side of a building or wall is ideal, asthe site will receive reflected light and heat. Agentle south or southeast slope with good airdrainage will warm early in the spring and willnot be a frost pocket. Avoid low-lying areaswhere cold air accumulates. Orient plant rowsnorth to south to maximize sun interception overthe entire leaf canopy. Light, sandy loam soilwarms faster than heavy clay soils. (See CIS 755,“Planning and Preparing the Vegetable GardenSite,” and EC 871, “Planning a Home or FarmVegetable Garden.”)
Prepare the soil carefully.
Short season gardeners must have the best soilpossible in order to develop crops quickly. Wet,clay soil stays cold late into the spring. A light,sandy loam is ideal. Amending soil becomesimportant if it has too much clay or sand, or if itis compacted. Adding organic matter will loosen
Short SeasonVegetable Gardening
Jo Ann Robbins and Wm. Michael Colt
clay and compacted soil, and increase waterretention and fertility in a gravelly, or sandy soil.Tilling wet soil results in compaction and de-struction of structure texture. In the spring, letyour soil dry before tilling, or prepare yourgarden soils in the fall when conditions are dry.Organic matter, incorporated in the fall, such ascompost, will be available for breakdown whenspring temperatures rise. Fall soil preparationwill allow the short season gardener to plantearlier in the spring.Beds raised 10 to 12 inches above the normal soillevel have many advantages in short seasonareas. Soil in raised beds dries out and warmsfaster in the spring, and drainage is betterthroughout the season, allowing for earlierplanting and better plant growth. Soil in raisedbeds with a southern exposure will warm morethan level soil (Figure 1). Add new soil, or amendnative soil, during the formation of the beds.Make beds 3 to 4 feet wide so you can work fromthe pathways on either side, eliminating compac-plastic, with a small, insulating airspace betweenthe layers, will produce even higher soil tempera-tures.Black plastic is not as effective as clear plastic inwarming the soil and results in higher tempera-tures only when in contact with the soil.Wavelength selective plastic film, which allowsheat waves to penetrate the film, but keeps lightrays from entering, will also warm soil effectivelyin early spring. This type of material (marketedas infrared transmitting (IRT) plastic or underbrand initials Al-Or) is used from early springthrough the growing season. (See the section onpermanent mulches for more details in workingwith plastic film mulch.)
Foster optimum fertility.
Vegetables planted in short season areas musthave adequate supplies of plant nutrients (espe-cially nitrogen) for optimal growth. Plants mustget off to a fast start and sustain continued goodgrowth to mature quickly. A soil test prior toplanting is useful to determine the pH of yoursoil and what levels of nitrogen, phosphorous,and potassium are needed for best growth.Organic fertilizers require warm soils to promotemaximum release of nutrients. The warmer thesoil, the faster the microbes can break downorganic sources of nutrients to make them avail-able over a period of time. In colder soils, theseorganic nutrients may be available too slowly.Supplemental soluble inorganic fertilizer mayhelp promote the rapid growth needed.Soluble fertilizers work well for plants in coldsoils because the nutrients are immediatelyavailable. Dissolve these in water and apply oradd to soil in dry, granular form. Apply acomplete fertilizer high in phosphorous atplanting time either in a band adjacent to therow or as a water solution. Add nitro-gen later dry or as a water-appliedtion from foot traffic. (See EC 1228, “Planningand Preparing Your Vegetable Garden Site,” andNCFS 270, “Raised Bed Gardening.”)
Warm the soil early.
To provide warm soil early in the spring, coverthe bare ground with clear polyethylene plasticfilm. The plastic retains the sun’s warmth andwill often raise the soil temperature 10 to 15degrees in a few days. A double layer of clear
SouthSouthFigure 1.
fertilizer. Several applications of nitrogen overthe growing season, or fertilizing with a slowrelease material, will ensure a steady supply of nutrients. (See CIS 922, “Fertilizing Gardens;” FG0050, “Fertilizer Guide: Vegetable and FlowerGardens, Except Irrigated Central Washington;”and FG 0052, “Fertilizer Guide: Home VegetableGardens, Irrigated Central Washington.”)
Choose cool seasonadapted vegetables.
Cool season vegetables seeds can germinate insoil that is 40
F or cooler. They are also able togrow and mature when exposed to at cooler dayand night temperatures. Most and can resistsome frost and light freezes. Vegetables that willgerminate at 40
F include: fava beans, beets,broccoli, brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage,cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, collards,kohlrabi, leeks, parsley, peas, radish, rutabaga,Swiss chard, celery, and turnips. Lettuce, onion,parsnip, and spinach will germinate at 35
F.Direct planting of these crops is possible in mostgrowing areas. However, when the growingseason is short (less than 90 days) and cold soilspersist, season-extending cultural techniquesmay be necessary to mature even these crops.Techniques include soil warming, growing orpurchasing transplants, pre-germination of seeds,plastic mulches, and plant covers.Of the cool season crops, beets, carrots, andonions will grow well in warmer temperatures,but the others will form seed stalks or producelower yields with inferior flavor when plantedduring warmer temperatures. Crops like Chinesecabbage and celery may also produce seed stalksif exposed to cool spring temperatures unlessvarieties resistant to flowering and seeding areused.Crops requiring 50
F or higher soil temperaturesfor seed germination will need to be startedindoors and transplanted after the soil and airtemperatures warm, or directly sowed at thattime. Examples of such crops are: corn, tomatoes,green beans, dry beans, cucumbers, squash,pumpkin, eggplant, melons, cantaloupe, okra,and peppers. Season-extending cultural tech-niques will be necessary to realize a harvest of some of these crops in areas where the growingseason is less than about 120 days. These warmseason crops will need protection because theywill not withstand any frosts, and cold nightswill slow their growth. (See PNW 170, “Propagat-ing Plants from Seed.”)
Choose early maturing vegetablesand cultivars.
The use of early maturing crops is another im-portant factor for short season vegetable garden-ers. Cool season crops such as spinach, radishes,lettuce, and kohlrabi are generally able to reach astage where they can be harvested in less than 60days. Of those requiring 60 to 90 days, peas,broccoli, beets, carrots, onions, cabbage, andcauliflower can all be planted during fairly coolweather. With corn and bush beans, however, theshort season gardener will need to use season-extending cultural techniques. These techniqueswill become essential with crops requiring morethan 90 days for maturity such as most tomatoes,peppers, eggplant, melons, squashes, and pump-kins. Not only do these crops require a greaterlength of time to reach an acceptable harveststage, but they also must have warmer tempera-tures to grow.Within each crop type, choice of cultivar iscritical for the short season gardener. Chooseearly cultivars with the shortest days fromplanting to maturity. Even a few days can meanthe difference between a harvestable crop or nocrop at all. For example, corn cultivars vary from53 to 112 days in the number of days to harvest.Choose cultivars for “northern gardens” or “coldclimates.” These grow and produce quickly. Look for number of days to maturity on the seedpacket or in the catalog. (See PNW 45, “Choosingand Using Western Vegetables.”)

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