If you’re a newbie Minnesota vegetable gardener, listen up. The Minnesota climate will humble you if you don’t live in harmony with it. And even if you do live in harmony with Mother Minnesota, she’s got a cruel sense of humor. Those are just the cold hard facts.
- Are There Really Four Season?
- How To Cope With The Weather
- What Plants To Grow
- Setting Our Garden Up For Success
Are There Really Four Seasons?
Many Minnesotans will tell you we have four seasons in this state. Others will tell you we only have two seasons—winter and road construction season! Regardless of the number, the reality is this; the weather will change in a blink of an eye. It can also bring devastating consequences like the last major wind storm in Minnesota a few years ago! That’s a rare occasion though.
As a proud owner of a Minnesota vegetable garden, It’s more likely that you’re going to see extreme temperatures, hail, and water-related problems (drought and/or flood). One more thing. Don’t forget about the snow which begins to pile up during the winter.
How To Cope With The Weather
The last paragraph was the bad news. Now for some better news. Even though the weather can be miserable for growing vegetables here, there are methods and equipment we can use to help us reach our goals regardless of the weather.
Some of these methods involve season-extension equipment like hoop houses, cloches, and cold frames. Floating row covers are our favorite device to use because it serves a dual purpose. It can be used as both a frost protective blanket and also a mechanical barrier to prevent insects from accessing your plants. The last thing you want to have happen is lose a crop from insect damage even though you saved it from a late frost on Mother’s Day!
What Plants To Grow
Just about any traditional edible plant will grow fine in a Minnesota vegetable garden. However, careful planning needs to be made to ensure successful results. Here’s a link to some of the best vegetables to grow in Minnesota.
With a few exceptions, most traditional fruits and veggies will grow just fine in Minnesota. Since we’re in the northern part of the US (longer day light periods in the summer), this will impact daylight responsive plants such as strawberries and hibiscus for example. For those of you who like the geek talk, this is referred to as photoperiod. In summary on this point, look for long-day varieties.
Setting Our Garden Up For Success
Any person who has spent time in the military can tell you there is a cultural attitude of setting a mission up for success. This means we take proactive steps which will put the odds for success in our favor. How does this translate to a garden?
All of your warm-season plants absolutely need to start indoors to be successful or be purchased for transplanting. Peppers, tomatoes and melons (yes, I know they’re technically fruit) will not germinate, bolt, flower and fruit before the first frost arrives unless we’re experiencing an unusually prolonged fall. I wouldn’t bet on that though. If you leave anything up to chance, it probably won’t go well. If you’re looking for an easy way to accomplish success with a vegetable garden, check out MEG’s edible grow bags. They remove many of the problems commonly associated with traditional growing such as poor soil, no topsoil, late frost risks, etc.
Soil is the #1 key to success in your Minnesota vegetable garden. If you don’t believe me, try to grow a tomato plant in a traditional new construction suburban lot. You’ll immediately realize there’s a BIG problem. There’s most likely no topsoil! This is because most builders these days remove the topsoil when building the home’s foundation and typically don’t put it back where it was originally found. This results in sod being dropped on the “B” soil horizon (aka the layer of soil below the topsoil).
What makes this frustrating for vegetable gardeners is the fact there are very few nutrients in this horizon. If you live in a new suburban lot (especially one built on a former Minnesota farm), you should have at least a foot of topsoil. Here’s a link to a very handy site which gives the soil information for your location. The database will show you soil classification information such as soil horizon (layer) depth, CEC capacity, pH and water holding capacity amongst other pieces of valuable information.
If you have no topsoil, or the topsoil isn’t in great condition, you do have other options. Two common solutions are going vertical with raised beds and using containers. Raised beds work well, but this option requires a lot of work moving soil to build the raised beds. If you don’t mind hard work, this is a viable option. If you’re more of the functional type gardener and don’t have the time or energy to spend moving cubic yards of soil and compost, containers would be your best option.
Assuming you’ve done everything right with your vegetable garden up to this point, there’s still another threat. Insects seem to show up right when all the food is ready for human consumption. It makes sense if you think about it, since you’re hungry, they’re hungry…. Anyways, there are a few insect species in Minnesota you should know at the very least. Those are aphids, cabbage moths and beetles. Of course there are many more than these insect species, in my experience, these do the most damage every year. Aphids and cabbage moths like to eat and sometimes completely destroy leafy greens like lettuce, kale and broccoli. Aphids go after the same kinds of vegetables. Beetles love your nightshade family members including potatoes and tomatoes. As a bonus, there are no natural predators for Japanese beetles. Brilliant!
Gardening can be fun and rewarding. Don’t let the negative aspects hold you back, because the only thing stopping you from having a successful experience is this thing called work. Take a lesson from Generation X, and work smarter not harder! Pssst….use containers. You won’t regret it!