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Planning This Year's Garden

NorGard_010611.mp3109.94 MB

The Northwoods Food Project and Cook County Extension together with WTIP produce Northern Gardening, a radio show about gardening in Cook County.
Northern Gardening will air on the second Thursday of each month through March and then the second and  fourth Thursdays from April through October. We will be focusing on a variety of issues and topics that our listeners are interested in learning more about.

If you have a topic you would like discussed, call Diane Booth at 387-3015 or email
This week's hosts were Diane Booth and Joan Farnam with guest Buck Benson.
The following are notes used during the show which might interest our listeners.

We love this time of year when the seed catalogs arrive with all the new, shiny photographs of lush spinach and mouth-watering tomatoes. Anything seems possible in January!

Before you start ordering seeds though, there’s the inevitable Seedbox Organizing Event or Taking Inventory where you go through last year’s seeds and see what you have.
Divide the seeds into several groups:
winter sowing,
seeds that need to be started in the garden,
seeds that need to be started 8 to 10, 4 to 6, or 2 to 3 weeks before last frost

The Cook County Extension office has a pamphlet which gives you the approximate time that seeds remain viable, but it’s always a good idea to do a germination test before planting.
Place 10 seeds from a packet between layers of moist toweling and see how many germinate. If 70 percent, or 7 seeds germinate, you know how much you should plant to get a good stand this year.

And now you’re ready to look at seed catalogs and make your choices. There are lots of seed catalogs out there which specialize in short-season varieties as well as larger seed companies that include short-season choices as well. A few names include Seeds of Change, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, FedCo , Johnny's Select Seeds, Jung Seed Company, Pine Tree Garden Seeds, Gurney's Seeds, Burpee Seeds, Stokes Seeds to name a few.
Chose Vegetables/ flowers that are acclimated to our northern climate. They should be short season varieties (60-70 days) for vegetables and flowers you plan to start from seed. If you’re starting the seeds indoors and plan to transplant, then you can get varieties with a little longer maturation date.
We checked out the median cates of critical low temperature thresholds in Minnesota at, which reports frost dates from 57 years. The site reported that in Grand Marais, the median last day of frost in the spring was May 16 and the median first day of frost in the fall was Oct. 1, leaving 137 growing days.
At the Duluth Airport, on the other hand, which would be equivalent to gardens about one mile from Lake Superior, the last day of frost in spring is May 17 and the first day of frost in fall is Sept. 23, leaving 125 growing days.
So choosing your varieties carefully is important for gardeners on the North Shore.

Seed Saving:
Another important question to ask before you purchase seeds is whether you plan to save seeds for next year’s garden.
If you are saving seeds you probably don’t want to purchase F1 hybrids. If you get open pollinated or heirloom seeds, they will grow the same variety year after year. It’s also important to find out if our season is long enough for the plants to produce mature seeds in that first year.
Another important factor is whether the seeds are wind-pollinated, insect-pollinated or self-pollinated.
Squash and pumpkins, for example, can cross with each other if they’re planted too close together, and you’ll get hybrid seeds. However, there are different species of squash which do not cross-pollinate, although many seed packets don’t tell you what they are. You need to know the genus and species to know which varieties will or won’t cross-pollinate. There are three species of squash -- C. pepo, C.moschata, C. maxima. C. pepo can be planted next to C. moschata without cross-pollination, for example.

Many people these days are interested in buying organic seeds and more and more seed companies are providing this option to their customers.
One seed company in particular, Seeds of Change ( provides organic seeds, and they regularly test their seeds for genetic engineering contamination.

Here’s a list of some vegetable varities from Seeds of Change that would probably do well in Cook County. The seeds can be ordered online and are also found at Buck’s Hardware.


Maxibel (50 -55 days) ‘haricots verte’ fresh eating
Provider (50-55 days) cold tolerant, good frozen, canned, dried
Blue Lake (50 – 60 days)
Beurre de Roquencourt (H) (55-60 days) vining tendencies
Indian Woman Yellow (H) (60 – 75 days)
Hutterite (H) (75-85 days) great soup / chowder bean


Alvro Mono (55-65 days) One seed beet earlier than moneta
Touchstone Gold (45 baby – 60 days)

Nutri bud (55-70 days) good side shoot production
Early Green (60-70 days) good side shoot production

Scarlet Nantes (65-75 days)
Kurota Chantenay (80 – 90 days) 5-8” roots in heavy soils / good
Yellowstone (70 – 75 days) 8- 10” Danver’s type

Cassius F1 (65 – 70 days)

Rhubarb (50 – 60 days)
Golden (50 – 60 days)

You should aim for less than 70 days and/or a short-statured corn that will grow 4- 5’ tall.
*Triple Play (60 -70 day) SU yellow ripe, blue sweet.

Oriental, under 70 days

Gourmet Greens
Most greens do well here. Kales are becoming much more popular as are mustards, tatsoi
Sputnik arugula
(30 – 40 days) 3-8” leaves

 King Richard type, (75-85 days), does not overwinter

Lettuce Look for long growing varieties that resist bolting, bottom rot, tipburn in warmer weather, etc. Mixes are great for cutting. Choose Mesclun, greens or lettuce mixes.

Flint, (28-50 days) green leaf
Nevada, (50 -55 days) summer crisp
Concept, (28 – 50 days) summer crisp
Galactic, (28 days) red summer crisp
Winter Density (55-65 days) mini-romaine
Icaro, (55-65 days) green butterhead

Not more than 80 days usually but depends upon your growing situation. They need heat and probably won't do well if your garden is next to Lake Superior, unless you cover them.

Sugar Snap (60 – 70 days) 4-5’ vines

Generally under 70 days for our weather.
Bendigo F 1 (55-65 days) green to red fruit – would try this one

Desiree, (95 – 100 days) 4-6” x 2.5” red skin / gold
Bintje, (110 – 120 days) gold skin / white
German Butterball (105-115 days) golden skin / yellow

Plum purple, (20-30 days)

Tyee F1, (45 days) bolt resistant

Gold Nugget, (75-95 days) C. maxima
Delicata Zeppelin, (90-100 days) C. pepo
Uchiki Kuri, (90-100 days) C. maxima

Young’s Beauty, (95-110 days) 8 – 12 lbs /pie/jack 'o lantern, C. pepo
Small sugar, (100 -110 days), 5 – 8 lbs pie, C pepo

Tomatoes are best grown under 70 days here. Those that have potato-like foliage might need to be separated – they are more likely to cross-pollinate.
Flavor is usually better on indeterminates rather than determinates. Determinates are usually earlier season varieties.
Legend (60-70 days) Det. 4-5” fruits parthenocarpic (few seeds)
Tigerella (55-65 days) Ind. 4-6 oz. Striped fruit
Annelise F1 (60 -70 days) 2 oz fruits in trusses.

Sugar Baby, (60 -70 days) 10 -12 lbs.

Flowers to try from Seeds of Change: (shorter days 60 – 70 days best for blooms)

Alyssum, White Sweet (50 – 60 days) start indoors or outside in cloches
Bachelor buttons, (80 – 90 days) start indoors or outside in cloches
Bells of Ireland, (95-105 days) start indoors or outside in cloches
Cleome, Purple Queen (70 – 80 days) cold stratify outside in cloches
Cosmos, Bright Lights (70- 80 days) start indoors or outside in cloches
Larkspur, Beauty Spire (70 – 80 days) start indoors or outside in cloches
Marigold, Lemon Gem (60 – 70 days)
Marigold, Tangerine Gem (60 -70 days) “
Marigold, French Brocade (60 -70 days) “
Morning Glory, Heavenly Blue (80 – 90 days) “
Nasturtium Mix (55- 65 days)
Nasturtium, Mahogany (55-65 days)
Poppies, Cornfield (65-80 days)
Poppies, Icelandic (80 – 90 days) Can be perennial here by reseeding.“
Portulacea, Double mix (60 -70 days) “
Zohar F-1
Goldy Double (50 -55 days) 4-5’ tall

Persian Carpet (60 -70 days) 12-15”
Cut and Come Again Mix (60 – 70 days) 3’ tall, 2-3” blooms
Righteous Red (60 – 70 days) 3- 5’ single, double
Shades of Pink (60 -70 days) 3- 5’ single and double 4” blooms