Tips for Growing Vegetables in the North

What’s going to be growing in your vegetable garden this summer? How about trying something different—maybe Chinese cabbage or pak choi, spicy mustard greens or fennel? These were among the unusual vegetables recommended for northern gardens by Jackie Smith, a University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener, who is a bit of a legend among Minnesota vegetable growers. She also offered tips for growing vegetables in the north.

Jackie, a Carver-Scott County Master Gardener, spoke at Garden Fever, the annual garden day for Carver-Scott County held in Chaska this past weekend. For many years, Jackie directed the Master Gardener vegetable trials in the state. In the trials, Master Gardeners from Ada to Zumbrota grow varieties of specific vegetables and keep detailed records on things like when they germinate, when they fruit, how many fruits per plant and sometimes even the total weight of produce. All this great information is reported in the March/April issue of Northern Gardener and is extremely valuable to gardeners who want to get the most out of the plants they grow.

“The biggest problem in growing vegetables is that people choose the wrong varieties for their climate or their interests,” Jackie told a packed room Saturday as she began her talk on unusual vegetables.

radishes

Plant radishes later in the season for a fall harvest.

Another problem gardeners experience is that many of the so-called “spring” crops do not grow well in our miniscule and unpredictable spring season. Jackie strongly recommends planting some of these cool-season crops in early to mid-summer and harvesting them in the fall, after we’ve experienced frost. Among the plants she recommends people start outdoors later for fall harvest are Chinese cabbage, fennel, spinach and fall radishes.

A few other tips:

Cut broccoli heads early and often. Cut heads low on the plant to produce fewer new heads, but larger ones.

Spinach can be harvested until winter. The tradition in Jackie’s family is to have fresh garden spinach on Christmas Day. To harvest it, she marks where the row of spinach is, then brushes away the snow to harvest. Fall spinach, I know from experience, has the sweetest and most delightful taste.

Use row covers to protect against the “Cabbage Trifecta.” Cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and the larvae of the black diamond moth are the three pests most likely to damage your cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, etc.). To prevent the pests from getting at your plants, cover them immediately when set out or seeded with row cover.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss some of the underused vegetables Jackie recommends.

—Mary Lahr Schier