Cool and Short Season Gardens

Borage "Starflower" edible as a garnish

Borage "Starflower" edible as a garnish

Original Image from this article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edible_flowers

The purpose of this posting is pretty simple. There are times when folks need a cool season garden or a garden that can grow in a short period of time. There are plants that have evolved in cool / cold places or at high latitudes and can grow in a very short growing season.

IMHO, the world is in a long term (10,000 year scale) slide into a cold period. Inside that time scale, we have a couple of “few hundred year” cycles as well as a 60 year PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation and similar AMO / AO cycles) that means where I live it is colder than for the last 30 years and will be getting colder than that for the next 20 years at least. For that reason, I’m shifting to more of a ‘cold tolerant’ garden style.

That has been a particular challenge for me. My Dad taught me how to garden, and he was from Iowa. You don’t grow a winter garden in Iowa… So all my experience was based on planting and growing things during the middle of the summer heat; as though we could have a -20 F Blizzard in October and had to have the harvest in. This being California, many things grow much better in the cool and wet of late fall and early spring; while some even prefer the dead of winter. In many cases my repeated failures were a direct result of trying to grow a cool loving plant in the middle of summer (as that is when there is no snow in Iowa…)

Sidebar on Historical Cool

My first college room mate had grown up in Silly Con Valley before it was known as Silicon Valley. His car, when we became Freshman Room Mates at UCD was a Ford Capri. It had NO air conditioning. This was in 1971. That was the era of the New Ice Age scare. (Brought to you, in many cases, by the same folks bringing the Global Warming Scare today).

Now, I grew up in a place where it was “110 F in the shade, and there aint no shade”…so I was very much not in line with this whole “no A/C” idea. So we talked. And I visited his home turf. And you did not need A/C in a car.

Time Passes…

So now I live about 10 miles from where he grew up and went to High School. I’ve needed A/C in my car from about 1984 to 2004 or so. “No Way”, I’m thinking, was my old College Roomy right. But… 2 small things…

1) I remember coming here in 1972 and not needing A/C.
2) A/C in my car broke about 2 years ago. I’ve not fixed it. I have not needed it.

So the “history” lesson is that there is a cyclical nature to warmth here and we’ve returned to the pattern of 40 years or so ago (about 1970).

It is now May (in prior years I’ve needed the A/C) and I’m still not seeing the reason to spend $1 K to fix it. I have june, July, and August ahead of me; but I’m still not seeing the need. “We’ll See”.. but at present, I’m of the opinion that my Old College Roomy was right. You just don’t need A/C in a car down here… during 1/2 of the PDO…

To The Garden

OK, it’s warm and dry here in the summer vs cold and wet in the winter; where I live. A “mediterranean” climate. I can live with that (especially given that it means we have near zero bugs compared to hot humid places). So what can be grown here in the cool? The same things you can grown in Iowa in an early spring garden. Things with a low “degree days” needed and with a large “cool growth rate” to the basic product parts.

What kind of things meet that “spec”?

Plants that grow well in the cool

Cruciferous Vegetables

There are many plants in this group. They share a common cross shaped flower (and often share genes: Some of these are crosses and hybrids between the others, sometimes with different chromosome counts!)

Kale
Radish (Some types, like Black Spanish, especially so)
Daikon (a very mild Asian radish; leaves used in Pakistan too)
Mustard
Cabbage
Turnip (some varieties under 40 days)
Rutabaga
Cauliflower
Broccoli
Broccoli Raab
Brussels Sprouts
“Choy” of various sorts – Pak Choy, Bok Choy
Tatsoi (that can be harvested from under snow)
Komatsuna
Napa Cabbage or Chinese Cabbage
Cress
Kohlrabi

Legumes

Peas (Sugar, Snap, and Edible Pod or “Snow” Peas)
Fava Beans

Misc Roots and Chards

Carrots
Beets (which includes the “leaf beats” and chard)
Potato
Parsnips

Aliums

Green Onions
Bulbing Onions
Shallots
Garlic
Chives
Leeks

Other Leafy Things

Spinach
Lettuce
Arugula
Mache or “Corn Salad”
Endive
Radichio
Mesclun (very fast – 25 days)

Other

Celery and Celery Root (both like cool weather)
Cilantro
Dill
Parsley
Asparagus (if you have the patience…)

More Detail

I found a very nice detailed page on cool season gardening. It has the different plant types sorted by season length and includes suggestions as to varieties and ways to extend the season. Rather than re-create many of the same descriptions, here is the link:

http://www.harvestwizard.com/2008/08/cool-season_and_warm-seasoncro.html

It is a 4 part article that is rather well done. Parts 2, 3 and 4 are:

http://www.harvestwizard.com/2008/08/planting.html

http://www.harvestwizard.com/2008/08/cool-season_vegetable_varietie.html

http://www.harvestwizard.com/2008/10/season_extending_crop_protecti.html

Sidebar on Edible Parts:

I’ve been reading up on Famine Foods and generally discovering that a whole lot more of the world around us is “edible” than you might think. Part of this came from discovering that the Germans tend to eat the stalks of Chard while the French eat the leaf portion. Part came from discovering that folks in Africa make a “pot herb” out of the leaves of the common bean. For many plants, far more of it is “edible” (even if not preferable) than we commonly think. The cabbage head is just a very large bud. Those other giant leaves on the cabbage are edible too (even if a bit tough). Similarly the leaves of Brussels Sprouts and most of the cruciferous family. Beet leaves and root can both be “lunch” and while some radish leaves are a bit “rough”, this last week I noticed that the leaves on some which were running to seed (“Watermellon” radishes) were not. The flowers in the bud stage also look a bit like Rapini… so a taste test followed. Very edible. A bit of a “radish spice” flavor, but I’d be happy to cook up a pot.

If you are growing a cool season garden and find that you have just “run out of time”, it is likely that what has grown is still usable. For years my Mom had me cut off and toss out the leafy ends of celery (she only liked the stems – even in cooking). One day I decided to try the leaves. They are fine. Now when cooking, I just start chopping it up, leaves and all. I find the flavor even nicer. For a very few plants, some parts are not edible. Potato leaves and rhubarb leaves are both mildly toxic, for example; but don’t let that stop you from being just a tiny bit “exploratory” with what parts of your garden are “edible”. That “Famine Foods” page is a good place to get ideas and a “web search” on a given plant with “edible” or “toxic” as the second term will tend to find any “issues”.

You can even eat many common “decorative” plants. Some folks go so far as to make their whole landscape “edible”:

http://www.amazon.com/Edible-Landscaping-Rosalind-Creasy/dp/1578051541

while

A google search on “edible landscaping” returned 178,000 hits many of them looking very interesting.

Many of these plants are perennial, so by definition survive and grow in cool conditions. So, for example, grape vines not only make grapes in warm weather, but the leaves are edible and availalbe even in the cool times.

http://www.plantea.com/edibleland.htm

Even things like Bachelor Button can be eaten

http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1255.html

Where you have always had chrysanthemums, plant bachelor’s buttons—you can eat them

Though I have to note that even the chrysanthemums they are saying to replace can be edible:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garland_chrysanthemum

and there are whole books written on using flowers in the kitchen… While it may look strange, I’ve come to appreciate the occasional nibble on a rose or the occasional camelia flower. (The plant used to make English Tea or oriental Green Tea is a variety of camelia, and while the tea I made from my “ornamental” camelia was not as good as the selected varieties, I found the flowers quite nice. Bunnies just love to eat them. It’s amazing what you can learn from a bunny…)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camellia_sinensis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camellia

These folks have a nice list of edible flowers, as well as a pointer to a list of poisonous plants:

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8513.html

As flowers come early in the season, you can get a ‘fast crop’ if your crop is the flowers!

And for some ideas on cooking with edible flowers:

http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

Now if you start to think outside that “squash and tomatoes” box, there are a lot of things that are flowering, making leaves, and ready to eat early in a short season and during cool times of the year.

Sesbania Bispinosa flowers with shrimp

Sesbania Bispinosa flowers with shrimp

Original Image

It would be interesting to try making a similar dish with Scarlet Runner Bean flowers, that are also edible… and early in the garden… and like cool weather.

Scarlet Runner Bean

Scarlet Runner Bean

Original Image

In Conclusion

I hope this gives some ideas on ways to have a garden, or edible landscaping, that is ready and availalbe to munch during cool times or when the growing season is short.

Also, don’t forget that you can grow some things in “window boxes” and have those potted plants around the home be both decorative and edible. Sometimes I’ve even just sprouted some mung beans in a Mason Jar with a cheesecloth cover as a mid-winter mini-garden experience.

There is no reason to confine your gardening to June, July, and August. Even in Iowa ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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9 Responses to Cool and Short Season Gardens

  1. boballab says:

    LOL, EM you have listed everything I put in back in Mid April this year: Radishes, Carrots, Lettuce, Green Onions and Potatoes.

    Because of how cool it has been this spring I’m just about to put in the green beans and tomatoes.

    On a larfer scale, I expect local corn to be expensive this year, none of the local fields are planted yet and I have only seen 2 prepped in the last week with manure.

  2. Chuckles says:

    While not a cool climate crop par excellence, chopped up pumpkin /squash leaves are much used in Africa as a spinach analogue. Often simmered in milk or water and served seasoned and with coarsely chopped peanuts mixed in.
    Accompaniments – stiff maize meal porrige sometimes with cooked sweetcorn kernels.

  3. dearieme says:

    Our garden is plagued by a plant known as ground elder in England and bishop weed in Scotland. It was introduced by the Romans as a salad crop. Do NOT grow it or you will never be rid of the invasive pest. But it would do as a “famine plant”.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @Chuckles:

    Nice to know!

    @Dearieme:

    Well, all I need do is let the bunnies have run of a place and they keep it cleared till all is dead. Jerusalem Artichoke is similarly reputed. As it grows from roots, it is near impossible to remove without Roundup. Bunnies took down a stand and kept at the sprouts until the roots died from lack of replenishment…

    You might consider a pet bunny ;-)

    The Wiki on it is interesting:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground-elder

    In some areas, this plant is considered among the worst of weeds, as it readily spreads over large areas of ground by underground rhizomes. It is extremely invasive, and crowds out native species. The smallest piece of rhizome left in the ground will quickly form a sturdy new plant, followed by many more.

    If a small plant finds its way into a perennial flower garden it will spread with vigor, resist all attempts at eradication, and make continued ornamental gardening there very difficult.

    Take a bit to the bunny store and see if they like it. If they do, I suggest a “bunny patrol”…

    The description of J.A. is almost as dire, and they had mine gone in 2 seasons.

  5. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @ E.M.Smith;
    Jerusalem Artichoke is a good survival food planting, as it will do well and produce food on little care. Only need to plant it once. Not good for a small garden as it is large and pushy around weaker plants. Hard treatment over the spring will exhaust the tubers to eradicate it.

    Morning Glory is the worst planted pest that I have had to eradicate. A few hogs will totally wipe out a patch as it is a relative of the sweet potato and they will dig up every root piece. Of course they leave “bomb craters” when they get done. :-( Even Roundup only makes it sick for a while.

    I wonder which “runner bean” would be best for a survival planting as some produce usable tubers as well as beans for fresh and dry uses. A few inches of bean or pea straw might help the tubers overwinter here at 2,000 feet. pg

  6. Stephen Brown says:

    I was sent out to forage in the hedgerows by my grandmother when I was just five years old. My first task was to pick the tops of stinging nettles.
    “Only the tops, mind! Not the bits at the bottom where the dogs pee on them!”
    I was provided with a basket and one glove. The glove didn’t stop the stings along my forearm. The nettle tops (plucked before flowering) were dumped into a saucepan with about an inch of boiling salted water in it. The lid was held down whilst the nettle tops were cooked for about 3-4 minutes before being drained and served just like spinach. Tasty!
    I’ve foraged hedgerows since then, collecting hazel nuts, horse radish (the wild stuff is much more pungent), a variety of easily identified fungi (never pick a fungus you are not sure of), wild rose hips in Autumn (the best source of Vit. C evah when made into rose hip syrup, but never ingest the hairy hips) (that last bit sounds rude).
    I pick a large variety of edible leaves and flowers from hedgerows even now. The produce lends an interesting and tasty (and FREE) addition to one’s diet.

  7. Stephen Brown says:

    I was sent out to forage in the hedgerows by my grandmother when I was just five years old. My first task was to pick the tops of stinging nettles.
    “Only the tops, mind! Not the bits at the bottom where the dogs pee on them!”
    I was provided with a basket and one glove. The glove didn’t stop the stings along my forearm. The nettle tops (plucked before flowering) were dumped into a saucepan with about an inch of boiling salted water in it. The lid was held down whilst the nettle tops were cooked for about 3-4 minutes before being drained and served just like spinach. Tasty!
    I’ve foraged hedgerows since then, collecting hazel nuts, horse radish (the wild stuff is much more pungent), a variety of easily identified fungi (never pick a fungus you are not sure of), wild rose hips in Autumn (the best source of Vit. C evah when made into rose hip syrup, but never ingest the hairy hips) (that last bit sounds rude).
    I pick a large variety of edible leaves and flowers from hedgerows even now. The produce lends an interesting and tasty (and FREE) addition to one’s diet.
    My e-mail address was wrong in the first post, now it is correct.

  8. Stephen Brown says:

    Addition to the above.
    Ever made your own sloe gin, using sloe berries taken from the hedges? They’re the fruit of the blackthorn. Mmmm! Makes for some great cocktails.
    Blackberries? Pick 30-40lbs during Autumn, make apple and blackberry pies, blackberry crumbles, blackberry jam, blackberry brandy (good for coughs and wheezes!) and freeze the rest for later on!

  9. R. de Haan says:

    @ E. M., I think you will like this article “Plant these companions with tomatoes.
    http://modernsurvivalblog.com/survival-garden/plant-these-companions-with-tomatoes/

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