Gardening in a land with long, cold winters means having the temperature make many of the planning decisions. It’s a limitation, of course, but it need not feel limiting. By extending our season and starting seeds early, before the ground warms up, even northeasterners can enjoy delicacies that originate in far-off, warmer places. These delicacies rarely fruit before July and shudder at the first frost. They are the tender* crops that have, through hundreds of years of cultivation, come to define summer in a temperate home garden. No longer exotic, these southern transplants have made our finicky climate their home, but only for the hottest window of the year.
We’ve got at least two more cold months ahead of us, garden planning, and seed starting right around the corner, spring clean-up and then, the long-awaited, labor-intensive, time-consuming reunion (or first encounter) with the warming soil. But for now, our gardens are blanketed with snow and since most of us won’t be jetting off to visit the warm homelands of our tender crops, let’s take a momentary mental vacation to mid-summer harvests past:
*Tender crops love the heat and cannot tolerate any freezing temperatures, so they must be planted after the danger of frost has passed, and harvested before the first frost of the year. Semi-hardy plants can tolerate some heat, but prefer the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. A few examples: lettuce, mustards, chard, potatoes, parsnips, cauliflower, carrots, and beets. And, the hardy group loves a good chill but does not like heat at all. These crops can be planted in the early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked, and again in the fall (some will go on producing into early winter!). Hardy crops include: broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, peas, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips. These three groups can be helpful divisions when choosing seeds.