We’re So Cool
By Kathryn Pankowski
There’s no getting away from it – James Bay is cool.
I mean that literally, especially during prime growing season. If, between May and September, you look at the wonderfully detailed map of Victoria temperatures from the school-based weather network (http://www.victoriaweather.ca/), you’ll probably find Central Saanich toasty bright red and James Bay an icy blue.
And this summer coolness poses a challenge for new gardeners who hope to produce bushels of tomatoes and peppers, as well as those who have arrived recently from areas with a ‘real’ summer – one where you take the duvet off your bed.
It is possible, of course, to grow heat-loving crops here - even produce melons and sweet potatoes – but it requires warming contraptions. If you’re the kind of gardener that just wants to raise a few tasty munchables without a whole lot of work, then why not play to our strengths? Here are three cool-weather loving edibles that are easy, suitable for balconies and other small spaces, and attractive enough to include in an ornamental garden or pot.
Why grow snow peas? They’re tasty, there’s a big quality improvement with fresh-picked, and growing them can save you money as they’re fairly pricey and they often have to be bought in a pack that may be too big.
They’re easy, too: just put the seed in soil, give them something like string or a bamboo pole to climb, and stand back. An early spring sowing will give you a long steady supply of peas – often to July, but in cool years I have had spring snow peas produce right through to autumn.
And they fit into small spaces. The tall ones can grow up a fence or wall, taking up only inches of ground; short varieties are good for pots on windy balconies.
Bonuses: You can also eat the foliage: snip off some new growth to use as pea shoots. And the flowers resemble sweet peas; most are cream, but a few varieties produce other colours.
For years, I thought collards only grew in hot places. It turns out they’re a close relative of kale and prefer cool weather.
Collards are a biennial. Plant them in spring and you’ll get a handsome rosette of dark green edible leaves that you can pick from all summer. They will stand all winter – yes, even this last February – and then in spring put out bud stalks. You can eat the unopened flower stalks like broccoli or leave the plants to open their dramatic spikes of bright yellow flowers, a good source of nectar for early pollinators. Or harvest the flowers yourself to sprinkle over salads.
If you’re gardening on a balcony, collards work well in mixed planters. Surround them with blooming annuals for the summer, then let them carry on alone for winter green.
Lettuce is a classic cool-weather crop – it will bolt (go to seed and get bitter) if it gets too hot and dry. As well as being a salad ingredient, leaf lettuce offers decorative possibilities: it comes in various shades of red, green, and in-betweens. In France, you’ll see lettuces planted in red-and-green checkerboards or used as a frilly border around a raised bed.
If you want a steady supply of salad greens, plant a small batch of lettuce every two-three weeks from April on. You can either cut off young plants at ground level for baby greens, harvest individual leaves, or wait and cut the whole head.
If we happen to have a warm spell, lettuce may be off the menu briefly, but start it again as soon as it cools off and you’ll get salad greens through fall and, with a bit of cover on cold nights, even through the winter. If you want to try winter growing, look for a cold-resistant winter variety.
Neighbourhood Gardening News
The Spring Plant Swap and Sale is coming up in Irving Park on May 11, so it’s time to start getting ready. Start a few extra veg or annuals to bring along and swap. And if anyone needs pots to hold divided perennials for the sale, let me know. I have a handsome stash on hand this year, courtesy of the Huntingdon Manor gardener.
Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.