For those of us living in the cooler climates, where summer might last – at the most – three months, it’s important to get a head start on the growing season. If you are an energized, enthusiastic gardener, there are a variety of methods and techniques to shorten the growth period for plantings.
Warm the Soil
Ideally, warm season crops grow best in soil that registers at a temperature in the upper 60’s. Actual soil temperature in your area may be in the 50’s. Covering the soil with plastic mulch sheeting, will help raise the temperature of the soil by a good 5-10 degrees, creating a more optimal environment for your warm-weather garden.
Black plastic mulch sheeting will hold in heat, so you won’t have to worry about weeds sprouting beneath it. However, you will need to install drip tape, or a soaker hose, onto the soil, before covering it with the mulch sheeting.
Organic mulch will only serve to keep the soil cool, which is the opposite of what your intention is at the beginning of the growing season. Be sure to gather up and throw away the plastic mulch sheeting at the end of the season.
Minimize Temperature Differences with Cloches
Glass bell jars placed over young, tender plants, will increase the temperature directly surrounding them, and shield them from falling temperatures at night. Realistically, there are many items which can be used to shield plants including: milk cartons, soda jugs, bed sheets, and drop cloths. Remove these items each morning, to allow the plants to soak in the sun and warmth. Reapply them if cool temperatures are expected at night.
Protect Young Seedlings from Predators
Cool weather isn’t the only element you will need to protect against; an equal threat to a burgeoning crop is hungry wildlife. The four legged critters will be especially ravenous after a long winter, and will be happy to eat any budding tendrils they can find. Keep your garden safe by installing durable, environmentally-friendly deer fencing. Along with keeping deer and other garden predators out of your crops, this fencing also serves to keep deer ticks, and other wildlife-based pests, off of your plants and out of your yard.
Cut the Growth Cycle with Quick-to-Mature Plants
The time it takes for a seed to sprout can be invaluable in a relatively short growing season. Shorten the growth cycle by planting sprouts instead of seedlings, and choose plants that are quick to mature. The curated list of vegetables, found below, will provide excellent sustenance, very quickly:
- Salad Greens – The snowflakes of the summer, salad greens come in a variety of shapes. No two are ever seemingly alike. With only a three-week span from sowing to harvest, consider planting kale, arugula, mustards, and various Oriental leaves for a variety of tastes and textures.
- Carrots – While the larger carrot varieties will take up to 80 days to harvest, smaller, finger-sized carrots, which also tend to be sweeter, may be harvested in a mere 50 days. To avoid breaking the carrots in half when harvesting, use a spade or garden fork to loosen the soil before gently pulling upward.
- Radishes – One of the speediest growing vegetables, radishes, need only 25 days to reach their harvest time. You can easily start the seeds in pots filled with potting soil, or in a pre-prepared garden. Be sure to weed the area often, and water when the weather turns dry. Harvest radishes before they become too large, as they quickly over-ripen, developing a hard and woody texture.
- Zucchini – Perfect for the beginner gardener, as it is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, zucchini only take about 8 weeks to mature. Each zucchini plant, in an optimal environment, may produce up to ten pounds of succulent squash. The plants can be sewn and harvested many times, throughout the growing season.
- Spinach – Taking only 30 days to harvest, spinach is a Mediterranean diet staple, and with good reason. As a ‘superfood,’ it has enormous anti-inflammatory properties, and is an amazing source of magnesium. Plant once a month, and you’ll be enjoying this versatile leafy vegetable, up to the first frost.
- Bush Beans – These beans take only 60 days from sow to harvest, and can be grown all summer long for continual munching and crunching. Picking pods consistently, every few days, will encourage new growth. Bush beans grow a foot to two feet vertically, whereas the traditional green bean will need to reach a height of up to six feet, before reaching maturation.
If you can’t wait to get out into the fresh air and get your hands dirty, now is as good a time as any to start your garden, even if the calendar is telling you otherwise. With a little effort, preparation, and adequate deer fencing, you will be reaping the rewards of an abundant garden all summer long!