When it comes to the challenges of changing weather patterns and growing food, it really does not matter where you live. We are all impacted in one way or another. I think most people will agree that the Growing season is becoming shorter, more erratic or simply isn’t the same as it used to be. I am sure there are about fifteen country song written and inspired by weather but wish as we might, this unpredictable, topsy turvy climate is here to stay so we gardeners need to adapt and modify our methods if we want our gardens you flourish.
We’ve watched, listened and learned and with some new approaches and trial and error our homestead garden is growing stronger year by year. We use things like row cover for pest management and frost protection, raised bed mini greenhouses to warm the soil faster, seed staring indoors to get a jump on things and a greenhouse to house our tender plants like tomatoes and peppers. This helps a lot but the most successful of all of our approaches has been simply to invest in “Short Season” or “Cold Climate” seeds.
Oddly enough, Ryan and I frequently get chided for our far-fetched notions. “Short season crops?” “Heirloom Seeds?” “Potatoes in barrels?” “Organic?” These friendly faces look at us like we are crazy BUT then a day comes when we deliver a basket of goodies from the garden when their stuff is still weeks away, or someone stops by to lament about the latest infestation and they notice that we aren’t having the same issues (that is not to say we don’t ever have issues – we do). We’ve slowly been proving that there are other ways of looking at things and it feels good when that scepticism fades away into the wind and turns into something more akin to local neighbourly lore and perhaps a bit more food in everyone’s gardens.
Short Season Heirloom seeds
Some heirloom plants have been naturally adapted over time to tolerate cold weather, hot weather, volatile weather and/or short growing seasons. When selecting your seeds look for a growing time frame listed on the package. You will want to calculate you first frost date and work back to when you estimate you can plant things to make sure the seeds you are selecting can be grown in your climate. The shorter the time they need, the better your chances of a good crop when the weather does not behave as expected.
You can find tomatoes for example that mature in 65 days rather than 90. That time difference will enable you to enjoy and harvest from those plants for a much longer time frame than those varieties that start to ripen just before the first frost.
If started early (indoors) you may also achieve several harvests over the growing season. Succession planting with short season plants can be especially effective in cooler or shorter summer climates. Its a strategy that takes a bit of time to learn but by planting some of the same plant a few weeks apart you can provide yourself with a continual harvest of that food right into autumn.
The advantage of buying traditional heirloom seeds are that they will gradually adapt to your environment making them even more durable and reliable and acclimated to your region over time. You can save seeds and have much more control over the quality of stock that you will be producing in future years. If you want to read a bit more about the benefits and importance of heirloom seeds we have an article you can read.
Some shorter season varieties to look for:
We have grown nearly all of these varieties in our Zone 4a climate. We have had great success with everything other than watermelon (I just can’t seem to grow them no matter where I live!) This is just a short list of names you can find on-line. There are hundreds of short season varieties available though so don’t just stick to what we have listed here. Most seed houses will list the time frame, the hardiness and other factors in the product descriptions to help you make your selections. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A lot of seed houses are very passionate and knowledgeable about the seeds they carry.
Arikara Dry Bean (85 days)
Chioggia Beet (55 Days)
Bulls Blood Beet (55 days)
Copenhagen Market Cabbage (63-100 days)
Chantenay Red Cored Carrot (60-74 days)
Double Yield Cucumber (50-60 days)
National Pickling Cucumber (55 days)
Cracoviensis Lettuce (47 days)
Red Salad Bowl Lettuce (50 days)
Forellenschuss Lettuce (55 days)
Australian Yellowleaf Lettuce (50 days)
White Stemmed Pak Choy (45-60 days)
Siberian Kale (60 days)
Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch Kale (50-65 days)
Swiss Chard (50-60)
Bloomsdale Spinach (40-50)
British Wonder Pea (50-55 days)
Tom Thumb Pea (50-70 days)
Black Cherry Tomato (64 days)
Black Prince Tomato (69 days)
Bloody Butcher Tomato (55-70 days)
Czech Select Tomato (65 Days)
Lipstick Pepper (55-75 days)
Hungarian Yellow Wax Hot Pepper (60-85 days)
Early Jalapeno Hot Pepper (70 days)
Padron Pepper (60-85 days)
Patisson Panache Verte et Jaune Summer Squash (55 days)
Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash (85 days)
Heirloom seeds can be harder to find in nurseries so you are typically better off sourcing you desired seeds and starting them indoors yourself. It takes a bit of practice but you can rig up a decent growing station quite easily. Order early, be ready.
Heirloom Seed Suppliers
There are many wonderful heirloom seed houses across North America, Europe and beyond. We have a list of some of Canada’s heirloom seed suppliers. If you want a name added to the list get in touch with us and we will get it updated for you. We get our seeds from all over the country and rarely have trouble growing them but if you can, work with companies as local to you as possible. The varieties will be more adapted to you climate. Learn about seed saving and soon you will have your own stock of seeds adapted to your environment.
If you have short season tried and true favourites that we have failed to mention feel free to add them in the comments!