Tomatoes for bad weather: For many years I called myself a vegetable gardener, when in reality I was just a tomato grower. Oh, I’d put in a few peas and maybe a few lettuce starts, but mostly I grew tomatoes. Summers came and went, and it was just by luck that the tomato varieties I chose were the ones that didn’t mind cooler temperatures. Siletz was my default ‘regular’ tomato for slicing, and Principe Borghese was my favourite cherry tomato. Both early varieties, as it happens. I was happy. Tomatoes ripened, and friends and family enjoyed the fruits of my labour.
Over the years I became more sophisticated and chose some pretty fancy tomatoes, including San Marzano, Black Krim, Brandywine, which turn out to be all heat lovers. Some years they flourished and other years they barely ripened.
You may remember last year with its long, cold and wet spring, followed by a pretty dismal summer. Then came September, normally a fine ripening month for tomatoes; it shuddered by in a blur of rain and cold. Green tomatoes languished on the vines. The gardening season ended, not happily.
Without a crystal ball to show the weather for the coming spring and summer I’ll still plant some exotic varieties, but I’ll also be sure to have a good supply of Siletz, Early Girl, and Oregon Spring. For cherries I won’t be without Principe Borghese, Sweet One Hundred, or Sweet Million. The mixed tomato platter isn’t complete without some yellows, and my favourite is Yellow Pear; while not the earliest one it did ripen, even in last year’s dismal season.
CHOOSE VARIETIES THAT TOLERATE COOLER TEMPERATURES
Cool weather beans: It’s worth noting that even among heat lovers like beans there are varieties that are more tolerant of cooler weather. Some like Venture Blue Lake bush beans have a good ability to germinate in cool, moist soils. Both Kentucky Blue and Purple Peacock pole beans are tolerant of cooler temperatures, the latter even producing well in less than full sun. Scarlet Runner beans, botanically different from either pole or bush beans, actually prefer cooler weather and drop their blossoms if it gets too hot.
SNUG AND HAPPY UNDERGROUND
Root crops are far less picky about weather, as long as the drainage is excellent. Within the beet family, Red Cloud and Early Wonder Tall Top are both particularly cold tolerant, although beets in general are safe to plant and easy to grow in our climate.
Carrots never fail to please if planted in deep friable loam, and seem to love the cool soil, as do radishes and parsnips. (To avoid carrot rust fly, cover carrot crops with row cover before they germinate.)
Potatoes are a cold tolerant vegetable that more of us should grow, providing we have good drainage. With so many varieties, colours, and sizes plus solid nutritional value it’s too bad they are often overlooked. For those with limited space, there are lots of options for growing potatoes in containers.
EAT YOUR LEAFY GREENS
Most people know that leaf crops thrive in damp, cool conditions, but many haven’t yet tried some of the hearty, nutritious chards, kales, and Asian greens. Two springs ago I planted Bright Lights chard as starts from the nursery; they produced well all summer and winter, right up until they were replaced by new seedlings at the end of the following June.
Kale is so cold tolerant that it’s best planted in the spring for the following winter harvest.
Cabbage grows best in cooler weather, with the West Coast Seeds catalogue singling out Early Jersey Wakefield and Derby Day as growing “rapidly in the chill of spring.” Yes, some years the chill of spring can be followed by the chill of summer, so plan accordingly, and diversify.
Broccoli, like other brassicas, is known to prefer cool weather. Broccoli raab, also called rapini, is a headless broccoli that is delicious steamed or stir fried. In particular, Zamboni raab tends to bolt in summer heat. That’s not surprising, is it? Hockey fans unite and grow Zamboni raab!
TAKE A CHANCE ON CUKES
While cucumbers are thought of as a hot weather crop, and require very warm soil to germinate, once growing they seem to produce adequately in less than perfect conditions. I have grown Lemon Cucumber for years, started inside in individual pots as their roots resent disturbance. WCS catalogue mentions Marketmore and Fanfare as having early and extended harvest, respectively.
GET AN EARLY START – BUT NOT TOO EARLY!
In many cases I will give spring a helping hand by starting my seeds indoors. I now have a simple grow light suspended in my laundry room, and by using row covers I can warm the soil in my garden and give the seedlings a little protection after transplanting. By being careful with the crop choice and variety selection, and knowing the microclimates within my own garden, I can expand my harvest.
It’s probably better in our currently unsettled climate to plant according to temperature, not calendar date. Planting too early is a major cause of crop failure; hardy plants go to flower prematurely, and heat-loving plants become stunted or perish.
INTO THE FUTURE
Will I still grow eggplant, squash, and those wonderful San Marzanos? Yes of course, I’m an optimist; and what is gardening if not a thrill and a challenge, with delicious vegetables as the main prize. But by planting both cool weather plants and heat loving crops, I will enjoy the harvest no matter what the weather lottery brings us this summer.