By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
Do you remember your parents’ garden from when you were a child?
Your mother spent August canning or freezing the peas and beans, corn was ready when you went back to school, and the beefsteak tomatoes were picked green before a big frost in September and ripened in the house.
Does this sound familiar? Is this how your garden is producing today?
Well, things have changed. And with some more careful planning, you will have better results from your garden and enjoy your vegetables during the summer, not the fall.
Many of our favourite vegetables have been hybridized to offer us a larger selection, with a variety of colour or enhanced flavour, enhanced nutrient content, and, most importantly a variety of length of “days to maturity.”
The seeds that were available when our parents planted a garden had a long period of “days to maturity,” and this was the reason all of our favourite vegetables took so long to ripen.
Over the years, growers have taken the very best characteristics and hybridized that vegetable to achieve the qualities mentioned above.
Most importantly, there are many varieties of vegetables with a shorter “days to maturity” and are much better suited to our summers here.
Whether you buy your seed locally or from a mail order, take note of the “days to maturity” description either on the seed package or the catalogue description.
Rainy River District has around 70 days of summer growing season, on average. This means there are 70 days with temperatures over 70 degrees F (some of our summers may have many more days like this, but there are no guarantees).
Cool nights also affect the growing rates of plants, whether the nights are early or later in the season.
Many of the traditional varieties that our parents planted, like corn, carrots, beefsteak tomatoes, and lettuce, required 90-100 or more “days to maturity,” often not maturing in the garden before the heavy frost hit in the fall.
Wondering how to have better success in your own garden? When making your seed selections, review all varieties available to you.
Almost all vegetables have a faster-growing variety. Although a great characteristic, you should not pick seeds based only on a shorter growing season requirement, but check out the other positive characteristics of each hybrid looking for the features that most appeal to you.
You may want a seed that is organically grown, or a less acidic tomato, potatoes with less starch content, sweeter corn, etc. There is a hybrid for almost any customer request.
Once you make your decision as to what hybrid variety you want to choose, you will have great success if you use the 70 “days to maturity” or less as your rule of thumb.
If you are still faithful to the traditional seed varieties, try planting some traditional ones (or longer-growing varieties) and some new hybrids in your garden.
This way, you can test out the new varieties for success and taste, and you still will have the longer growing varieties as back-up.
If you still are not sold on the new hybrids, remember that, as great of a gardener as we may be, we still are at the mercy of our weather. The weather is the only thing a gardener cannot control.
You’ll all agree we have had some unusual and unpredictable weather in the district in the last 10 years. But when using some of the new hybrids, you may be able to recover from a weather disaster more effectively.
You often can replant a shorter growing season variety if your first crop is destroyed by frost or hail in May or early June.
Other crops, such as beans and peas, even corn, may be finished by August, when we have had some really bad storms over the years.
Some of the hybrids also may allow you to plant a second crop later in the season (radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, bean, and peas are great choices for putting in a second crop).
Plant in July or very early August, and you’ll soon be enjoying another fresh crop of these favourite vegetables.
As always, I encourage experimentation in your garden. This season, just be more aware of the different varieties and what they can offer for you and your success at gardening.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover some new favourite varieties.
I know I sure have over the years.