Who is ready for spring!?! I hadn’t thought about it too much in January, we like winter. But now that spring is in the air, I’m ready to plant my garden! When you are gardening in a cold climate you have to make the most of your growing season. So here is a list of my favorite vegetable crops you can plant right in the ground and harvest all season long!
Every year I have a goal in mind for my garden. One year I want to can spaghetti sauce and salsa. Another year I want to try several varieties of the same crop to compare. I usually like to start my tomato and pepper seeds (and some herbs) indoors but this year I just don’t have time or patience for that. This year we are super busy with the farm. So my goals are a little different than other years. This year I want to:
- grow things so we can harvest all season long and if I have a little extra to store that’s great.
- grow things that require little maintenance, so I have time for working with the kids and animals, and book work (ugh!).
- grow things the kids like to eat. It’s my favorite thing for the kids to go to the garden for a snack. I want them to understand where their food comes from.
Over the years I have found some great early maturing varieties, and perennial crops that I can put in the ground, maintain and enjoy the deliciousness. So let’s get down to my 15 favorite short season, no fuss crops.
Onions were one of the first crops I had success with when gardening in a cold climate. I have grown Ailsa Craig Exhibition onions for many, many years now. I have started them from seed weeks before planting, or bought plants from Jung seeds. These are a reliable producer of LARGE onions, with a great taste. We use them all summer fried or fresh for sandwiches and burgers.
I have grown peas for nearly 15 years. I found Tall Telephone Pea early on and I have never switched. I like them so much because they keep producing (although smaller yields) through the hottest parts of summer and pick back up when it cools off again. That means no replanting! Also their yields can keep up with the kids’ appetite for them. I plant when the soil temperature is 40 degrees and let them do their thing. The kids usually pick the pods long before a pea forms. The last flush of pods we let grow til the frost kills the plants and keep them for seeds.
After years of failed celery crops I decided to give Bright Lights Swiss Chard a try. Boy am I glad I did! Chard is a multipurpose plant that I use all summer long. We use the leaves like spinach in sandwiches and salads, or sautéed in casseroles and the stalks like celery. I like Bright Lights Swiss Chard because it’s colorful, matures fast (50 days), and can be used in so many ways.
These are a kid favorite. We plant lots of seeds on a trellis (pig panel) to make them easier for the kids to pick. I have tried pickling varieties, but we just eat them too fast to have enough to can. So I stick to Garden Sweet Burpless, or Tanya Slicing from Kitchengardenseeds.com which did very well last year and kept up with the kids.
I really struggled to grow carrots for years. But last year I learned the trick with carrots is to keep the soil wet while they are germinating! The kids love to grow carrots, but I had to teach the little ones patience to wait for the root to get large enough. Those big green tops were just too inviting! Our favorite varieties are Nantes Minicore, Rainbow, Black Nebula, and Yaya.
This is another one the kids love, not much makes it to the house as they like to snack on the ears of corn right in the garden. The sweet corn variety we like is Peaches & Cream Bicolor. Also, we always grow Painted Mountain Corn a colorful dent corn. It was bred in Montana by a family friend, and has become a favorite. I grind it and make “confetti cornbread” since you get colored flecks from the skin in tan colored batter.
I’m not too particular about my greens, but I love to be able to go out and pick some for sandwiches or salad. I usually go for a leaf lettuce mixture that has different colors and shapes in it. I like to see the variety.
I’ve had good luck with pumpkins from day one. We grew giant pumpkins one year which don’t have time to ripen. But the kids blew it up with tannerite and thought it was great. My favorite baking pumpkin is Winter Luxury, and my favorite seed pumpkin is Kakai Hull-less. These are both on the smaller side and have some unique colors and textures on the outside. My favorite thing about pumpkins is that after the frost crinkles up the leaves I’m always amazed at how many pumpkins are under there!
I have learned after years of gardening in a cold climate to grow small fruit that mature as soon as possible. We grow Minnesota Midget (cantaloupe), and Rocky Ford (green melon). Every year I swear I won’t grow another watermelon and be disappointed, but I just can’t resist. My most reliable varieties are Yellow Petite, and Tendersweet Orange. Now my trouble is keep the kids away til they mature!
I love buttered beets, several in my family like pickled beets (which I never seem to get around to, and I can’t decide on a recipe). I grew Babybeat last year just to try something new and they were great. They don’t get big too fast and were never woody. I usually grow Crosby Egyptian and they are also good.
I like herbs that come back every year, it goes with my no fuss gardening approach! My favorites are mint, chives, chamomile, sage, calendula, and basil. They attract bees to the garden as well as make good tea or additions to my meals. The kids also think its great to chew on fresh leaves, even though mint tastes nothing like a candy cane.
I save back a few potatoes in late winter and let them grow eyes. I peel them in the spring and plant. My father in law has a great story of how they planted potatoes the same way when he was a kid. Maybe I’m a little nostalgic for bygone days, but we do it the same way. I don’t dust them or anything, but it works for us.
It took several years to get a patch growing, but it’s so worth it! It’s a surprise to find those little red fruits out there. They are a delicious treat that we all love. We have had the best luck growing June bearing varieties.
I have waited years to have a nice patch of asparagus growing, and it has been worth the wait. We pick and eat it right in the garden, the spears never make it to the table. I bought Mary Washington years ago and it has done well.
Garlic is easy. You plant cloves in the fall, and harvest them in late summer. I like to see them peeking out early, but then I find great joy in my plants surviving the winter. I don’t always get my garlic all picked in the summer, but I don’t mind them coming up where I had forgotten about them (unconventional, I know), and the cloves seem to grow just as big.
Gardening in cold climates can be difficult to say the least. But when you find fruits and vegetables that you like to eat and that grow well for you it makes all that effort worthwhile. Try planting some of these no fuss crops in your garden this year!