I have recently written a blog post about climate change which contains some ideas for gardening in cooler, shorter summers. I have some further thoughts on this subject which I’d like to share. While growing edibles in these conditions is admittedly more challenging, it can be done. Here are some concrete examples of things I have done in our own garden that have worked successfully over the past few years.
Make the most of spring
Depending on where you live, there’s a lot you can grow in spring, too so don’t worry if your summers aren’t that great. I always plant potatoes in September (the start of spring for us) and they are ready by November or December, depending on which variety I plant. My favourite early variety is called Liseta and matures in around 70-80 days. Unfortunately there were supply issues last year and it wasn’t available except through one supplier called Newton Seeds who had very limited stock available quite early, in April. I’m not sure if it will be available this year as it was such a bad summer that they might not have been able to propagate all of the varieties of seed potatoes successfully but if you’re keen on growing Liseta, keep an eye on their website. My favourite main variety is called Summer Delight and is in the Tui seed potato range, which is available at Mire 10 stores (a hardware chain in New Zealand) and through the mail order supplier Awapuni.
You can plant brassicas (cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) in spring for harvesting in early summer, which is a time when you’re typically planting seedlings and there aren’t a lot of things ready for harvesting. Mum read somewhere that if you leave broccoli in the ground after harvesting the main head, it will produce lots of side shoots which you can pick as they become ready. We did this last year and had lots of broccoli florets until mid-December, which is when our plants started going to seed.
Broad beans also produce in spring, but they must be planted in autumn or winter so that the plants have enough time to grow, flower and produce beans.
Laying down black plastic underneath pumpkins, squash and melons
I could never grow melons successfully until I started laying black plastic underneath. I made holes in it to plant the seedlings. This idea was thanks to a gardener in Motueka that I met in a gardening group on Facebook and became good friends with. We have never met each other in person but still keep in touch. Kylie used to grow all different kinds of melons successfully and that was her secret (as well as hand pollinating the melons, which she taught me how to do to increase the yield). Since then, I have never looked back and even managed to grow 38 rockmelons in part of a garden bed on our front lawn in 2017. Unfortunately it has become impossible for me to grow melons anymore due to climate change, as our summers start a lot later and have become considerably cooler and shorter. But I do also use black plastic for planting pumpkins and squash, which was recommended to me by a gardener called Cynthia who lives in Foxton. She always had an incredibly impressive harvest and that was her secret, too. I started doing the same thing and even grew a whopping 75 pumpkins and squash in 2016, including 25 enormous Big Chief Butternuts. Unfortunately this seed variety is no longer available in New Zealand. I know using black plastic isn’t good for the soil, but you can’t win in every way. If gardeners are really serious about improving their yield in such challenging conditions, it is worth at least considering.
Plant compact, quick maturing varieties
Cooler temperatures generally mean that things will take longer to grow. It therefore makes sense to plant compact, quick maturing varieties which will be ready for harvesting before the season ends and it starts becoming cooler in autumn. As I mentioned in my previous blog post about climate change and gardening in cooler and shorter summers, cherry tomatoes are a good choice as the fruit is smaller and they ripen more quickly than large varieties such as beefsteak. I also highly recommend growing cherry tomatoes that can be grown in containers rather than in the ground, as the plants are more compact and will produce fruit more quickly. My favourite cherry tomato varieties suitable for growing in containers are Tumbling Tom Red, Tumbling Tom Yellow and Topsy Tom, all of which are available from Egmont Seeds in New Zealand. If you live overseas, check for a local supplier.
In winter and spring, I like growing mini cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage as they are more compact than their regular sized counterparts. They take up a lot less space and mature much faster. Some varieties even mature in around 60 days from the time of transplant, which is really good considering that regular sized brassicas can take twice as long as that to become ready for harvesting. Because they are so compact, you can plant the seedlings closer together so you can fit more seedlings in the area you are using to plant them. Here is an example of how closely mini brassicas can be planted next to each other. These are Ranfurly Mini cabbages, which is a variety that is available from Egmont Seeds in New Zealand.
Plant dwarf varieties
Dwarf veggies generally tend to mature and produce faster than their taller counterparts. I highly recommend growing dwarf beans because they are incredibly easy to grow and extremely productive. Unlike climbing beans, they don’t require support. My favourite variety is called Golden Yellow Butter, which is available from the Egmont Seeds Commercial catalogue in New Zealand. It is also possible to get dwarf broad beans, which are shorter plants that also crop more quickly and can even be grown in containers. I have grown the variety Robin Hood in the past with great success.