The Q&A Archives: Short Season Vegetables

Question: Assuming I cannot start seeds indoors or buy started plants, is there a good variety of heirloom vegetables that I can sow directly in our 'Zone 4' garden and still get a harvest?

Answer: Your Zone 4 garden probably gets its last frost of the season in mid-May, and the first frost about mid-September. It's not a good idea to plant seeds of warm-season veggies until the soil has had a chance to warm up a bit, but you can plant seeds of cool-season veggies just before, or right after the last frost. Therefore, you can plant seeds of beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, peas, spinach, and lettuce during March, April and early May. Beans can be planted in mid-May. Seeds of warm-season veggies can go into the ground about mid-June. This includes early maturing tomatoes, squash, melons, corn and peppers. When chosing varieties, find those that mature in 60-90 days. You can help extend the season by using floating row covers to protect the plants and black plastic over the soil surface to help trap and radiate heat. Another often used technique for extending the season is gardening in raised beds. The soil in raised beds dries out and warms up faster, giving you a few precious weeks of additional growing time. Burpee's Heirloom Catalog lists the following veggies that would be good candidates for your short season: Golden Bantam Corn (80 days), Black Beauty Eggplant (74 days), Hale's Best Melon (80 days), Sweet Banana or Long Red Cayenne Pepper (75 days), Orange Oxheart Tomato (75 days), Creole Tomato (70 days), or Mortgage Lifter tomato (80 days). Good luck with your garden!

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