This bountiful haul of produce came from a backyard garden in Fernie. Madi Bragg/The Free Press

This bountiful haul of produce came from a backyard garden in Fernie. Madi Bragg/The Free Press

Planting your very own victory garden

The Free Press publisher and gardening expert, Madi Bragg, gives tips for planting

By: Madi Bragg

What can I plant before the last frost and what should wait for consistently warmer weather?

I get this question a lot as folks hear statements like “don’t plant until May long weekend at the earliest” or “plant after all the snow has melted off Castle Mountain”. This week I will address this question mainly in regards to growing vegetables.

There are in fact tons of plants that grow really well here in the valley that are quite frost tolerant and would in fact prefer to be planted earlier in the season rather than later. There are even some plants that will self seed in my garden so judging by when they poke their first leaves up I know when they are ready to be planted.

We have a relatively short season here in the Elk Valley, our last frost dates in Fernie are around the end of May, in Sparwood it could even be early June and in Elkford middle of June, so taking advantage of the spring thaw and before the last frost can be a very important vegetable growing time.

In early spring vegetables that first pop up in my garden include garlic, spinach, lettuce, carrots, radishes and all the brassicas which include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts. Most garlic should be planted in the fall for harvest the following summer.

Spinach, radishes and lettuce especially enjoy the cool weather and seed can be thrown down quite early in the spring for it to sprout whenever it is ready to. It has been my experience that they need less care then as it is cool and damp much of the time and when they go to seed the previous year they will happily self seed all over my garden.

Carrots normally require quite a bit of care. The seed needs to stay wet for 14-20 days as they must be damp when they sprout. The seed is also very light and cannot be covered too heavily with soil. I have found that early spring is optimal for creating the right conditions for successful sprouting of this seed. If you put a lightweight row cover over the carrot bed this can also add the extra touch of heat allowing the seeds to germinate even quicker. Keep in mind that you need very light, sandy soil for long straight carrot roots but if you prep the garden bed the autumn before you can quite successfully start these little tasty treats very early in the season. Also be aware that the seed is so tiny and light this crop does require thinning. Radishes are a super quick cool weather crop and are often planted with carrots as they are ready to harvest way before they crowd out any carrots.

Growing broccoli, cauliflower, kale and the other vegetables in the brassicas family here is a wonderful use of your garden space. They like cool weather and we sure do get plenty of that here. I grow just four broccoli plants and that keeps my family of four in broccoli for almost the whole year. Most varieties are frost tolerant down to about -6 or -7 degrees and if it’s going to be colder, just toss a small cover over them at night. The smaller the plants are, the hardier they seem to be to the cold so don’t try to transplant a large brassica too early, but once they have their first set of “true” leaves (not the pair of clover shaped starter leaves, but the next set of leaves) they are usually safe to transplant. This crop does like nitrogen rich soil so I like to use aged chicken manure in the bed, and a heavier mix of clay in the dirt like we find here in Fernie is no issue for this crop.

Onion sets, peas and potatoes can all be planted before the last frost date. I like to sprout my peas before planting them, but that’s optional, they will happily sprout on their own through frost and damp weather. Potatoes need to be planted so deeply that they take a while to poke up above the ground so once the soil is workable and the day time temps have warmed I usually transplant my seed potatoes.

There are lots of popular vegetables that do not do so well in the cold or damp weather so make sure you wait until the soil has warmed up and we are consistently seeing warmer nights to plant these. Examples would include tomatoes, beans, peppers, melons and squashes. Tomatoes are so tasty fresh from the garden, but require a long season so make sure to start your seeds indoors or buy some transplants from your local garden centre.

Beans can be sprouted and then planted, but if the weather turns and it gets cold and damp, you may need to replant this crop as they can rot under those conditions. Cucumbers are the same, and definitely prefer warmer soil and to be covered too. If you decide to use transplants, be very gentle with this sensitive plant and try to match the soil temperature of your seedlings with their garden bed to reduce transplant “shock”.

Melons, peppers, and winter squashes all need lots of warm weather to successfully produce the fruits we like so much. You may want to increase heat and extend the season for these crops using covered hoop houses, plastic on the beds, etc.

Zucchini, a summer squash, can be quite successful here. I haven’t bought a zucchini in at least eight years as they also freeze so well grated or chopped. Be aware that if you are not hugely successful with this crop, it may just be the variety, try a different kind and don’t give up on this prolific plant.

Don’t forget to ask your local gardeners what varieties of plants they like to use as sometimes it is just the type of vegetable you are growing that doesn’t work so well in your area, but local knowledge can be so incredibly helpful.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
67 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty people in the region are hospitalized with the virus, 11 of whom are intensive care

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
Kootenay-Columbia MP pans federal budget

Conservative Rob Morrison says budget doesn’t have a plan for long-term spending priorities

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
Man arrested in incident at Canada-U.S. border near Roosville

A man who crossed the border illegally was apprehended by U.S. officials

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/ screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

The golf course in Elkford would need to be re-zoned to allow for 10 camping sites. (Image courtesy of District of Elkford)
Elkford to consider allowing campsites at golf course

The district has expressed support for 10 campground spaces at the golf course

Most Read