June 17, 2014

Cool Climate Gardening: Secrets from a Decade of Planting in the Yukon. ~ Ruth Lera

berries north yukon garden growth

Think it’s too cold to grow food where you live? Think again.

Here are some growing tips from the great white north—how to grow food and lots of it.

To find out where I live and garden you will need to get out a map, or most likely just open google earth, and then you’ll need to look north, far north, just north of the 60th parallel.

My home and garden are just outside of Whitehorse, Yukon. That’s next to Alaska for those out there who don’t know their Canadian Geography.

And we grow food here, lots of it.

Just as we’re putting in the carrot seeds at the end of May we’re eating the last of the carrots from the previous year’s harvest.

That’s why I’m telling you; if we can do it here—where we don’t even get 30 frost-free days in a row, and a hard frost can easily hit any day of the summer—people everywhere can grow food.

And this is important to know, because globalization of our food systems is one of the biggest contributors of carbon emissions. And this needs to change.

The co-author of the 100 mile diet, JB Mackinnon, once said in a talk I heard that it has taken us 50 years to destroy the food system and it will take us another 50 years to fix it.

I say we start now then because 50 years is a long time and the earth needs the repairs as quickly as possible.

So, if you live somewhere northern and feel like the growing season is too short, think again.

Below I reveal my ‘secrets’ from a decade of gardening in the north.

Row Covers

The early spring and late fall can be a chilly time for seeds, seedlings and transplants. Covering them with white garden cloth also known as reemay adds much needed protection. And the best thing about the reemay is that is doesn’t need to be taken off during the day. The sun and water go right through. A little protection goes a long way.


Animal poo is our best asset in gardening. When properly composted it is nutrient rich but another nifty thing about manure is that when it’s fresh it is warm. I use fresh chicken manure to create hot beds in my garden. I don’t plant seedlings straight into the manure though but instead bury the fresh chicken manure into the garden bed so that it can add heat. I can increase the departure of a garden bed by 20 degrees by using fresh chicken manure and grow crops like leeks which need 120 frost free days by now having this extra warm soil. Thanks hens, we keep you around for more than your tasty eggs.

Choose Your Crops

Not every crop likes the shorter season and colder temperatures. That’s why it’s best to focus on the crops that do. I don’t bother growing corn, sweet potatoes or beans. Instead I check seed packages for the length of growing days and pick ones that are short like 30 to 60 days. Radishes, bok choy, spinach, rutabaga, cabbage, broccoli and carrots, they all love the colder temps. It makes sense anyways to eat what likes to grow where we live. Yes, mangoes are tasty but they’re never going to grow this far north and rhubarb and raspberries are delicious, too. Learn what grows best in your region and grow that.

Eat the Weeds

The funny thing about modern day agriculture is that many of the weeds we’re working so hard to get rid of are actually more nutritious then the agricultural crops we’re planting, just another example of a backwards human choice.

This week I ate an incredibly tasty salad of micro-lamb’s quarters, a plant that was being weeded out to let the carrots grow anyways, so why not make a meal of it? Chickweed and shepherd’s purse, two common weeds where I live, are also packed with vitamins and minerals.

We feed them to the chickens of course, but to ourselves as well.

Eating local may be a trend right now, but it’s a much needed trend, so why not get on board and grow some food yourself?

What is the best way to learn how to grow food in your region? Ask people. Gardeners and farmers love to chat and much more can be learned from talking to people with experience then reading books or blogs. Ask around about what people are growing and how they are extending their seasons and keeping everything warm (if you live in a colder climate).

I’ll bet you’ll find out just the information you need. That’s how I learned all my ‘secrets.’


 “Walk the Talk with Waylon Lewis” ~ Not sure how to start your garden? Have no fear:



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Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Anthony Delorenzo on Flickr 

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