Help me eat my garden.
January 24, 2012 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Looking for websites or book recommendations for a gardening new to North American Zone 5 gardening.

Finally have a lovely double block to garden on again only I have no idea what to plant or how to plant it. I have had gardens for years in a Mediterranean type climate in the Southern Hemisphere. I've moved to North American and am now living in Zone 5 and would like to start planning my garden for the spring.

I love to eat my garden and previously had a roughly permaculture garden full of perennial food plants, fruit and nut trees and a rotating veggie patch using a bastardized square foot gardening layout. With cottage style perennials and the odd annual usually self seeded. I would very much like a similar style of garden here but have no idea where to start in such a different climate and with so many new types of plants to play with (or old plants with new names).

I am going to go to the local community gardens free classes over the next few week but would like recommendations for websites, forums or books that I can have for home reference, and to sit and daydream over to get through this dreary winter. Also bonus points for seed or plant companies/catalogs recommendation, online gardening suppliers recommendations, and the like.
posted by wwax to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: St. Lawrence Nurseries is based in Potsdam, NY, which is in Zone 3. They specialize in selling fruit trees that are selected and tended to be very cold-hardy. Only trees/shrubs, though, not seeds and annual garden vegetables.

As a Zone 6 resident with a Zone 8-9 mother who gardens, I've noticed that my harvests tend to start later and end earlier, and are thus smaller overall, but during the height of tomato season I'm getting as many fruits per plant as she does. I start my seedlings only a week or so later than she does, but I keep them in 3 weeks later; the springs are long and cold - i.e. a lot of time when all the frosts are past, but the highs are still barely 50, there's very little sun, and the plants just sort of sit there, so I may as well keep them in a bit longer and give them a heated room and fluorescent light. Some things just aren't as tasty here. A field-fresh perfectly-ripe happy organic canteloupe has never tasted blander than those of the far north - I gave up on the fruits of my childhood and started looking for new ones. So, no watermelon, canteloupe, peaches, okra, etc. but I'm growing gooseberries and Korean melons, and my spinach, lettuce, peas, and beans actually do better than Mom's because they don't get over-hot.

Oh, crud, you weren't asking me to babble at you, you were asking for websites. When buying seed, first step is to make sure the store is in your zone, makes it much more likely the plants will flourish for you. (and maybe lets you "shop local"). So just look for pretty catalog websites, then check where they're located and start building a list of ones most relevant to you. I both love and hate Artistic Gardens in New Hampshire - the great thing is that they sell 40-cent seed packets that are plenty big enough for an eclectic backyard garden (who needs $3.99 worth of zucchini seed?? one plant is enough for a family!). The moderately irritating thing is that they have very few images of what hte plants/fruits look like, and I've had one annoying shipping experience and one uneventful.

Lee Reich writes books about growing unusual fruits, pruning techniques, and other garden things, and I think he lives in Zone 5 (in NY or western MA). He has a blog, as well as a book "The Northeast Gardener's Year" which is probably pretty good for comparing the northern calendar to the ones you're used to. Also check with your local extension office to see if they have calndars or classes or a good website.
posted by aimedwander at 2:28 PM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: No no no "babbling" is fine, I just didn't want to make the question too general and chatty in case it got moderated, but any tips or ideas also appreciated.
posted by wwax at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2012

Best answer: You definitely want Fedco and Johnny's Seeds. The good news is that you can grow many fruit trees that require a chilling period. You're also in a great zone to grow salad greens and cruciferous veggies like cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.

You know, I should know comprehensive resources for growing in your zone, but I grew up gardening in a similar zone and it's all inherent knowledge to me now. I'm more than happy to help with any specific questions, though, here or through MeMail any time. Your local cooperative extension is a great resource.
posted by vers at 4:33 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about Plant Finder on Sunset Magazine's site
posted by biscuits at 4:57 PM on January 24, 2012

Best answer: Perhaps I'm showing my Midwest bias, but I think most "general" gardening books written in the U.S. are geared toward gardeners in zones 5/6 (with the differences between those two zones being, IMHO, fairly minor and not as important as differences in sun exposure, soil type, moisture, etc). I'm a big fan of Ed Smith's "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" as a extensive reference at least for the vegetable end of your question.
Dave's Garden is a good website both for plant listing and for their directory of nurseries and suppliers (there are certain seed catalog/plant suppliers, for example, that are a perennial problem and you should steer clear of, such as Jung's or Gurney's.
My go-to seed catalog is Stokes--it hits my sweet spot in the calculus of affordability/variety/quality.

Gardenweb has also been around for a long time and has great forums for all kinds of specific interests, including regional gardening.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 6:45 PM on January 24, 2012

Best answer: If you like herbs, this is a wonderful book: Living With Herbs by Jo Ann Gardner. The author lived in Nova Scotia when she wrote it and has wonderful suggestions for Northern gardening and varieties, for herbs especially. I bought this when I was a brand new and inexperienced gardener and had a very successful start thanks to it.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on January 24, 2012

Best answer: Its not a book, but as a zone 5 gardener that grows foods to be eaten, I find my simple metal soil thermometer is a great guide for knowing what to plant when.

Along with the temp markings, it lists crops. 40 degree soil, lettuce, spinach, etc. 50 degree soil peas, carrots, chard. 60 and up beans pumpkins, corn. You get the picture.

And when the seed package says to plant as soon as the soil can be worked, that's when to plant. My own garden tradition is to always plant spinach on st patricks day, as long as the ground isn't frozen solid. Spinach and some lettuces will tolerate a late snow, and some years I'm eating spinach and lettuce in april.

I also plant short rows of lettuce every 3 weeks from the end of march until the middle of june.

60 day beans can be planted in august, on my birthday - the 2nd, to be picked in early october, just pull up your early peas and plant right there.

I like pinetree garden seeds. The prices are low because the quantities are smaller. They're at The pinetree lettuce mix is a great bargain, and filled with an amazing variety of delicous lettuces.

Happy zone 5 gardening!
posted by bricksNmortar at 8:01 PM on January 24, 2012

Best answer: I can't tell whether you live in the US or Canada, but if in the US, do a search for your state's Cooperative Extension service. These are programs of the federal government that set up a farming, gardening, food and household science research and education center through state universities and grant-recipient colleges. They specialize in understanding the conditions of each region and can recommend techniques, plant varieties, frost-free and harvest dates for your area, etc. And they tend to have lots of free or cheap classes, programs, and giveaways.
posted by Miko at 6:05 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Favorite Seed Catalogs:
Pinetree Garden

Favorite Books:
Square Foot Garden
Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest

I usually have good luck with lettuces, peas, squash (summer and winter), tomatoes, cukes (sometimes), greens such as chard and kale, kholrabi, beans (pole and bush).

My parents have cold frames and harvest kale, carrots, and lettuces year-round.

Never tried fruit trees -- move too often. :-)
posted by LittleMy at 9:08 AM on January 25, 2012

Best answer: Okay, I see you're in Indiana. I lived there for a while -- moved down from colder regions, then moved way out here to California, so I've had to make the reverse adjustment. Check your county's Master Gardener program -- most have websites with newsletters and planting calendars, and they often run plant sales, tours, and talks.

Here are some other things to check out:

Indiana Organic Gardeners Association

"Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society

and two sites from Purdue:

Consumer Horticulture

and the (archived) Garden Tips.

If you're in or near Bloomington, memail me; I can put you in touch with some friendly people who've been gardening there for decades.
posted by tangerine at 1:39 PM on January 28, 2012

Just remembered a site I have bookmarked at work that's right up this alley with good reading, ideas and reference material:

Edible Landscaping Made Easy
posted by vers at 10:43 AM on January 31, 2012

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