Make the Most of Your Growing Season
First things first, determine your average first and last frost dates by heading here and clicking on Frost Calculator.
Scroll down to see your average last frost, average first frost and the number of days in your growing season.
The days in your growing season are the days that are frost-free.
Select Crops that Match YOU + YOUR Area
Now that you know your average frost dates and the number of frost-free growing days, it’s time to select plants that are right for YOUR location.
Grow what you want to eat
First, brainstorm what you want to grow based on what you enjoy eating – that’s the whole point, right?
Identify plants as cool season or warm season
Second, identify the plants you want to grow by categorizing them as cool or warm season vegetables, meaning vegetables you will either grow in spring/fall (cool season) or grow in the summer (warm season).
Select a variety that matches your area
Thirdly, look for varieties of each plant that match the number of days you have in your growing season.
For example, my aunt, who lives in Michigan, has 118 frost-free growing days with a growing window between May and September while I, in Texas, have 235 frost-free growing days with my window between March and November.
This means we can both grow tomatoes, but she needs the fastest maturing varieties while I can grow the heirlooms that take up to 90 days to reach maturity.
The sweet 100 tomato, which matures in 65 days, is an excellent choice for her because it allows a few months for her to continuously harvest from her plants and provides a little cushion for the inevitable variables.
How do I know? Read on.
Determine if you have enough time to grow what you want
Count backwards. We will continue to use Michigan as an example.
- The first average freeze is September 24th.
- Speckled Roman tomatoes take 85 days to reach maturity, which is about 12 weeks or 3 months. Counting backwards on a calendar from September 24th, that puts us at approximately July 2nd.
- Then, you need to count back 6 more weeks because the days to reach maturity is counting the very first ripe tomato. I’m guessing you don’t want just one ripe tomato. Since it’s an indeterminate variety, you want at least a month and a half to harvest from it. That puts us at May 21st.
- Since the last average freeze in Michigan is May 28th, this means that the Speckled Roman tomato isn’t the best choice for my aunt to make the most of her tomato growing season.
Let’s break it down, so you can calculate this for your growing area.
- When is your first average freeze?
- How many days does the variety you want to grow take to reach maturity? Count backwards on a calendar that number of days.
- Then, count back another month and a half, or 6 weeks, to allow time to harvest from your plant.
- What date are you at now?
- When is your last average freeze?
- Do you have enough time to grow that variety?
Now, keep in mind that most crops have multiple varieties with varying maturity times and characteristics.
Remember, it isn’t that my aunt can’t grow tomatoes in the summer. It’s that she needs to grow varieties that are fast to mature – around 60 days as opposed to around 85 days.
Determine if you need a specific variety
Each variety has unique characteristics, in addition to its days to reach maturity.
Just because a plant is a cool season plant doesn’t mean it can handle a frost. Check for a frost tolerant variety if you need a plant that can continue growing after the temperatures drop below 32°F.
As long as it’s not a warm season plant, there will most likely be a variety you can select that will tolerate frost.
EXAMPLE: If you really want to grow lettuce but don’t have enough time before the first frost, look for a frost tolerant variety of lettuce, like Winter Density.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you live in an area with extreme heat, and you are growing a cool season plant during spring, look for a bolt resistant variety.
This means the plant will be more tolerant of the heat and less likely to bolt, or go to seed (ending its life cycle) because of the increased day length and high temperatures in your area.
As long as it’s not a cool season plant, there will most likely be a variety you can select that will resist bolting.
EXAMPLE: If you really want to grow lettuce but don’t have enough time before the temperatures start to rise, look for a bolt resistant variety of lettuce, like Buttercrunch.
How can I determine the variety of a specific plant, the time it takes to mature and when it grows?
Seed companies almost always have this information online, in their seed catalogs and on seed packets. You will want to pay attention to the following:
- tolerance of frost or heat (usually the description on the seed packets states if it is especially tolerant of heat or frost)
While reading the seed packet, website or catalog, be sure to pay attention to the following as well:
- days to maturity (and keep in mind this is from when the seed is planted until you harvest the first time – it’s important to note this because you will be harvesting from your indeterminate tomato plants, for example, for a month or more after your first harvest)
- cool season or warm season (sometimes it says this on the front of the packet, other times you will need to read about when to plant it, which will be on the website or the back of the seed packet – you want to know if you need to plant it before or after the average first or last freeze)
I hope this helps you make the most of your growing season! Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever made a growing season mistakes – I know I have. 🙂