Gardening up North

Our garden is now located approximately 1150 miles north of where we started and in a rain forest.  We have discovered that makes a big difference in growing things!  We are still learning to garden here in our northern, wet climate, acidic soil and lots of big rocks.  Vegetables that we have grown for years take on a whole new twist here where the nights stay so cool (50’s mostly, some 40’s and even 30’s) all summer.  We never really gave a thought to being able to grow lots of tomatoes.

tomatoes_lead_narrowweb__300x307,0.jpg  Tomato.jpg

In the San Joaquin Valley, you turn over the soil and add some fertilizer.  You set out the tomato plants in early spring – Rick once  planted January 30th – keep them watered and maybe add a little more fertilizer as they grow.  By May, sometimes very early in May, you have ripe tomatoes and soon you are trying to find someone who will take some of them off your hands.

It is not quite that simple here.  Here you must prepare your beds well or nothing much will grow.  That means rototilling or digging by hand and taking out all the rocks.

rototilling 2

rock w shovel

I don’t know of any kind of plant that will grow well in these rocks.


Then you must add amendments as the soil here is very acidic.  We use dolomite lime and organic fertilizer as well as all the organic material we can find; shredded leaves, peat moss, composted manure, etc.  This is best done in the fall before the snow starts and the ground freezes.

leaves on rows

You should cover your soil so all the amendments you just added don’t get washed away in the winter snow and rain.  You can do this with plastic or a green manure cover crop.  We put down plastic in the fall.

garden in snow

Then the snow and rains come and the ground is frozen from about late November until May.   It is truly beautiful and you sit by the fire and drink hot chocolate and admire the view out the window.


You wait for the snow to melt, the ground to thaw, the frosts to be gone and the soil to warm.  Memorial Day is the traditional date for this – anything before that and you are ahead of the game.  You carefully transplant the delicate seedlings you should have started in a cold frame several weeks before.  Then you have to protect your plants from the cool nights, cold rain and (hopefully not) a late frost.  There are various strategies for this.  From very elaborate shelters that look like mini greenhouses to rings of 2 litre soda bottles filled with water and  duct taped together around each plant.  Basically anything to protect the plant from the rain and cold and keep the heat in.


Our choice is these wall-0-waters.  They are plastic rings about 18 inches high that have individual tubes.  You set these around the plant and fill the tubes with water.  The idea is that it shelters the plant and the water stores the heat during the day and releases it at night, warming the plant.

tomatoes in walls 2

Last year we were not really sure if they would be worth the expense and effort, but decided to give it a try.  We used the walls on about half of our tomato plants and just put cages on the rest.  The only ones we got ripe tomatoes from – no matter what variety – were the ones with the wall-o-water protectors.

2 color walls

This year we even got some of the new walls that are red.  The red plastic is supposed to promote more growth of the plant because the UV rays penetrate better – or something?  We will see, we have both colors this year but definitely walls on all the tomatoes.  We originally set out more tomatoes than we had walls for, so before our new wall-o-water order arrived I improvised with milk jugs.

tomato in milk jug

It did work, the plant is still alive and healthy though I’m sure that the wall-o-waters will do a much better job and give it some room to grow.

green tomatoes

We also get a lot of tomato blight here.  The way I understand it, it is a fungus growing in the soil.  The rain and too cool temperatures at the end of the season are the perfect breeding ground for it to spread to your tomatoes.  We had that last year.  Also, though we had several green tomatoes last year that were healthy, most of them didn’t have a chance to ripen before the frost got them.  So we had fried green tomatoes.  I found a recipe for green tomato pie, but never actually made it.  Green tomatoes in pie just didn’t sound very appealing or appetizing.

picked produce

This year we were very careful about choosing only early varities which thrive in the cold temperatures.  When you see tomatoes with names like Glacier, Northern Delight, Polar Baby and Siberian it is a clue that they should do well here.  So far this year we have several tomatoes set on, the largest is almost the size of a baseball.  Hopefully they are snug and warm in their little walls and we will have lots of ripe tomatoes this summer.

  tomatoes set on

We have also improved our potato growing this year.  Last year we ran out of time to prepare the beds so we ended up putting soil and straw in some old tires over newspaper and planting the potatoes in there.


The plants looked like they did fairly well.  As they grew taller we added another tire and more soil around the plants.

potatoes in tires

We got a few potatoes, better than nothing, but not as many as we hoped.  The few we got tasted great though!


This year we worked hard to get the beds ready in the fall, rototilling, digging out rocks and adding amendments. We bought our seed potatoes early and let them sprout in the dark room, then gently transplanted them to the hills.


 And so far, the potatoes look good!  We will see how they fare as the season progresses.


This is a new-to-us variety called Satina which is a very nice gold fleshed potato from France.  It is supposed to have wonderful flavor – I hope we get lots to try it.

We also decided to try to grow some sweet potatoes.  Those of you who have spent Thanksgiving with Rick (or Megan) know that they LOVE sweet potatoes. So, even though they are really a warm weather crop, I ordered the Georgia Jet slips which are supposed to be able to do well here.  When they arrived they did not look too promising.

sweet potatoes shipped

Shriveled, wilted and straggly looking!  The accompanying brochure says not to be discouraged about that, they will come right out when planted.  After digging out all the rocks, Rick made the rows and we put black plastic on them to help hold in the heat.

bed ready

 We planted the sweet potatoes through the plastic.

sw potatoes in plastic

They still look straggly and shriveled!  I guess we will see what happens.

sw potatoes in plastic close up

Our best crops last year were snap peas and beans.  Those did really well and were delicious.

beans on trellis

So well in fact, thet they outgrew the trellis we had them on and came over the top.  By the end of the season we had to add another support just to keep them up and to pick them you had to be down on your hands and knees underneath.


The beans grew well and tasted great right up until frost.

beans before frost

This year we have a new system, custom made by Nick while he was here.

beanpoles empty

Old fashioned bean poles.  Our friend, Cindy who has a great garden, uses a system like this.  We may need a ladder to get to the ones on the top, but that is better than crawling around on your hands and knees.

beans and peas on poles

The second planting (hint: always finish the garden fence before you get the dogs) of peas and beans are up and starting to vine.

peas on strings

The lettuce I planted around the edges of the peas and beans is doing very well and should be ready for a salad soon.

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