IV. Know When to Hold ‘Em and When to Sow ‘Em

When it comes to gardening and growing luscious, tasty vegetables… timing is everything. Matching your vegetables to your season duration is vital if you want to have a successful crop. If your growing season is approximately 90 days, growing anything that typically matures in that amount of time or less should be relatively easy. If you push the envelope on your planting date, be ready to help that plant with an early start indoors or some extra coddling in the fall.

First, though, you need to have an idea of the growing seasons for your zone and the conditions that you will have to contend with (for info on growing seasons by zones; see below). In most cases, the vegetable growing season is summer, surrounded by late spring and early fall. The start of a growing season is typically indicated by the last spring frost date and the end by the first autumn frost date (although a few plants, like parsnips and kale, can survive being exposed in the cold longer and even obtain a better flavor).

Your local weather station should broadcast the frost date every spring (for the last frost) and autumn (for the first frost), or you can contact your local Cooperative Extension Office directly and ask them for the expected first and last frost dates. The dates will differ slightly from one year to another, so be sure that you keep track of this if you intend to become a perpetual gardener. If your growing period is lengthy and warm, you can get started earlier in the season and perhaps even plant two or three rounds of crops in a single season.

Keep in mind though that you may have to contend with sweltering, dry conditions at the peak of summer, as was the case for most of the South during the summer of 2011. This is extremely stressful for a number of vegetable plants and you will need to mulch them and provide additional water on a daily basis. If your growing period is short-lived, you can still have an extremely abundant garden. Choose only vegetables that mature quickly, and attempt a few season extending methods.

Here are two favorites:

Start seeds indoors first or plant them inside a cold frame, which is basically a box covered with glass or plastic that protects smaller plants from excessive cold and wind. Raise them to seedling size in the cold box until putting them out in the ground is safe. Use plastic coverings (from row-cover sheeting or tunnels to cones to recycled milk jugs to “water wall” wraps) to keep plants and their immediate soil at a warmer temperature and more desirable humidity range.

You can even produce some veggies during the winter. In light climates, you can have kale, carrots, leeks, and root vegetables all winter long. If you have the available space, please refer back to the vertical gardening section to create an indoor garden that completely disregards the seasonal planting schedule.

Use the guide below to help you decide what to plant and when to plant it. Simply find your location on the map and reference the color coded hardiness zone for your area. The tables following the map represent a generalized list of plants that will produce viable vegetables and fruits in that hardiness zone.*

Before you get into the details on how deep to plant your seeds and when to plant them… you may want to make sure you have the basics down first… skip this section and review Green Thumb 101.

  • Please note that this is only a hardiness zone map for the U.S.A. If you live outside of this area please consult your local department of agriculture for the proper hardiness zone in your area.

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