We are in Alberta, Canada, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains – plant hardiness zone 3A, elevation 1,037 m (3,402 ft). Yep, it’s cold here! While the southerlies plant their garden, we pile up more snow, while they harvest their first crops, we plant ours, and while they still complain about the heat troubling their plants we already cover ours to protect from the first frost. Gardening where it’s cold is just a bit different (or maybe it is a whole lot different ;)). If you know the differences, you can grow lots of food here, too.
Spring gardening where it is cold
It was a beautiful day here in middle of April. We were excited to finally see the snow melted. We were working in the garden in bare feet, preparing our very first garden bed. However, local friends had warned us not to plant. Why not? We learned why the very next weekend with a blizzard and temperature dropping to -20C (-5F) in late April! Since then we have learned a lot about gardening in the cold.
We use micro climates: Windbreaks will make the spot warmer, good for cold climate gardens. A slight slope to the sun will work for us but a slope away from the sun will work against us. We want to catch every sunbeam we can. Also raised beds help to warm up the soil. See How to Create a New Garden Bed. For heat loving plants we need a greenhouse. See What greenhouse to choose.
Most summer crop seeds need to be started indoors. See Starting seeds indoors.
Winter sowing works here too, but just for winter crops and for some they will germinate too late. See Winter sowing in Zone 3.
We can grow some early crops even in an unheated greenhouse with proper protection. See How to Grow Early Peas.
See also When to Plant What – And Why Not Follow the General Rule.
Summer gardening where it is cold
Gardening is usually a summer activity. Most plants need heat and sunshine to ripen. Our summers, however, are short and and more on the cooler side. In fact it can snow here every month of the year. We often get a week or two of heat around 30C (86F), enough to get the salad bolting but not enough to ripen tomatoes. If you just got the impression that we would not be able to grow anything here, then it is time to Tour our “Northern Home Garden”. We grow lots and lots of yummy produce and store it for months to come.
Fall gardening where it is cold
Our fall garden is more like a winter garden in warmer areas. We can use many winter gardening tips to grow food till temperature drops to about (-18C) (0F). Often this will be in late November. See how to plant a Fall Garden in a Northern Climate.
Frost protection is a big subject here in the spring as well as fall. See how different plant react to frost and plant protection from frost. And before real winter comes you want to prepare the garden for winter.
Winter gardening where it is cold
We plant spinach and garlic in the fall that does survive our frosty winters and continues to grow in the spring. No, there is nothing edible on these plants in the middle of -40, but as soon as it warms up, spinach grows new leaves. This year for the first time I also planted mache, we’ll see what it will do.
We leave carrots in the ground for winter harvest. No, not under cold frames, under thick straw bales. The straw protects the carrots from damage and fresh carrots can be harvested even in our frosty winters.
And there is always the indoor growing. Sprouts, micro greens, and greens and herbs grown in an aeroponics garden survive and thrive indoors. See winter growing in Zone 3. The indoor garden helps us to have fresh grown produce and to be gardeners even where it is cold all year round.
This is a collaborative post for gardeners in Zones 3 to 9. See all the links to the participating gardeners below. You would not want to miss the wealth of knowledge here organized by Angi Schneider, the author of The Gardening Notebook.
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