Heat-tolerant vegetable crops and cultivars for the changing climate

Our food-growing spaces allow us to grow healthy produce, connect with Nature, and hopefully save money. They are also a solid response to climate change and COVID.

My blog articles this year will be about climate-resilient food gardening. Each month I’ll address one or more aspects of how climate change is affecting our food gardens and changes we can make to reduce global warming and ensure a future of healthy harvests.

HGIC has a new Climate-Resilient Gardening section (thanks to Christa Carignan!) where you’ll find more information on these topics. We plan to continually update content and add new pages. And please check out the University of Maryland Extension’s new Healthy Garden, Healthy You project that connects food gardening and human health.

This first installment includes an overview of how our mid-Atlantic climate is changing and a look at heat-tolerant crops and cultivars. Future articles will explore low-dig soil prep, composting food scraps, peat alternatives, heat stress in plants, reducing plastics, and “hardening” our garden spaces.

Resiliency is mentioned a lot with respect to climate change. A climate-resilient garden can both withstand and recover from warmer, more extreme weather. Resiliency can also mean transforming how we grow food by creating and sharing a community knowledgebase of new ideas and techniques.

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How to plan a garden now — and challenge yourself to try something new

January in western Maryland is not what you would call “prime” gardening season; however, it is one of my favorite times to start thinking and planning for my upcoming gardens and gardening projects. I am lucky to have several season extension tools that get my fingers back in the soil sooner. My mom has a heated greenhouse and we have two high tunnels that allow us to gain several weeks on our short growing season.  

What is your favorite way to plan for the upcoming growing season? One of my favorite tools is the Home and Garden Information Center’s Vegetable Planting Calendar. It provides great guidelines for telling you when and if you should plant vegetables as seeds or seedlings. If you are starting your own seedlings you can use a traditional calendar and figure out what week you want to have plants ready to put in the garden and then use the information found on the back of seed packets to figure out when you want to sow the seeds (count backwards from your goal date). I often sit down in January and start writing dates on the calendar for when I should sow each plant.

calendar with planting dates

I love to grow hybrid spreading petunias and they are often the first seeds that we sow in the greenhouse because they grow incredibly slow. I purchased a seedling heat mat several years ago and it has been the best investment for getting better, faster germination rates.  

I try to challenge myself to try at least one new vegetable or flower each year so that I can expand my knowledge and get outside of my comfort zone. A few years ago, I tried globe artichokes, which were beautiful foliage plants as well as flowers, although, I have to admit, I didn’t actually eat any of them. 

artichoke flower and foliage

We found that aphids loved the foliage for some reason. You can see the sooty mold growing here on the aphid honeydew (waste). This is a sign that you have an aphid infestation hiding on the underside of the leaves. 

artichoke with sooty mold

Last year I tried eucalyptus! This is a eucalyptus plant growing with other vegetables in the high tunnel. It did well, but would have benefited from having more space. It was just recently harvested for fresh cut flowers in this picture.

eucalyptus

I also tried companion planting by adding nasturtium and radishes to our cucumber hills in order to reduce cucumber beetle damage. I have to say, I think it helped, but it did look like a jungle.

nasturtiums and cucumbers

Did you have any gardening disappointments last year? Are there truly any failures with gardening though? Don’t we always learn something from the experience? If you had trouble with a plant disease, you can find a hybrid variety to help combat the problem. Cornell University has a good list of disease-resistant vegetable varieties. This year we are planning to try a hybrid disease-resistant variety of tomato called ‘Abigail’, as that is my oldest daughter’s name.

If you had an insect problem, look for a natural predator that you could attract. Is there a plant you can put in your garden that the bugs can eat or go to, that you don’t care about losing to insect damage? This is referred to as a trap crop or sacrificial crop.

Here are more photos of things I have tried recently.  

purple and green cauliflower
Colored cauliflower, self-blanching varieties. There is no need to tie the leaves up around the heads for blanching.

zinnias yarrow and sunflowers
Left: Mixed zinnias (annual) with yarrow (perennial). Right: Miniature sunflowers are a refuge for all kinds of beneficial insects.

As I look outside at the several inches of snow blanketing my garden, I cannot help but be excited for the upcoming growing season. Having a nice hot cup of tea and the latest seed catalog doesn’t hurt either.

I hope you are inspired to try something new this season. Remember that often we learn the most through our challenges and they often make us more passionate about gardening, so don’t be afraid to try something new in 2021!

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland, edited by Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension. See more posts by Ashley and Christa.

Are Cheaper Vegetable and Flower Seeds Just as Good as More Expensive Seeds?

“Though I do not believe a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

From Faith in a Seed by Henry D. Thoreau.

Many of us are starting to think about seeds to plant in 2018. “What seeds do I have on hand, and what seeds do I need to buy?” “Can I put my faith in cheap seeds and save money without sacrificing quality?”

Seed packet prices can range from less than $1 to $5 based on the plant species, how expensive it was to produce, level of customer service, packet size, time of year purchased, and many other factors.

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