Many gardeners think of the time period between the last spring frost and the first frost as
the growing season. Anything less than 120 days is considered a short season. However, the
early spring and late fall periods, when the ground has thawed but at least light frost can
still be expected, are often shorter as well in these climates. In some mountainous locations
gardeners have to be prepared for frost in any month, and many short season climates experience
hot summers as well. If you are new to growing vegetables in a short season climate, start with
those that are well-adapted to cooler temperatures and take on the more challenging vegetables
as you gain experience.
Everyone considers how warm the air feels when considering planting times, but soil moisture
and soil temperature are at least as important for germination and plant growth. You must
ensure that the soil is not sodden from snow melt and sufficiently warm for the seeds you wish
to plant. A raised
bed helps drain soil quickly and speeds warming.
Peas and spinach can both be planted extremely early; some gardeners actually sow them very
late in the previous fall, though peas can rot in overly wet soil. Lettuce and other salad
greens can also be sown before the last frost. In cool summers you may be able to grow
successive crops of salad greens all summer long. The cabbage family--broccoli, cauliflower,
kale, as well as cabbage--can be started before the last frost, but often yield better as a
fall crop. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and parsnips taste sweeter after the first
fall frost. Count back from your first fall frost to find the best time to plant these
Asparagus and rhubarb are two perennial crops grown in the vegetable garden that do well in
short season climates. Beans, summer squash, and cucumbers can be started from seed when the
soil is sufficiently warm and all danger of frost is past. These typically produce harvests
before frost threatens in the fall.
Tomatoes, eggplants, green peppers, melons, and winter squash need a longer growing season
and require extra planning and work to get a crop before it gets too cold. In addition to
starting them indoors, they may require additional soil warming or protection from the odd,
unexpected frost. Many of them are subject to chilling injury if the nights get in the 40s(F)
and will stop producing if it gets too hot. These are many gardeners' favorite vegetables,
however, so the challenges are met with ingenious devices and tricks. Consult your local
co-operative extension service and experienced local gardeners for the best tips and strategies
for your particular locale.