Microclimates are a fascinating part of our larger weather patterns and understanding them can be the key to success in your garden. Our guest gardener this week is my colleague Erin, who lives in Peachland and has an extensive vegetable garden on her south-facing slope. Peachland’s position on the south aspect of the mountain at a narrow part in Okanagan Lake means it receives “lake effect” snow. This is a phenomenon where cool air picks up the heat and moisture from a warmer body of water and rises up to eventually cool and fall as snow. Basically, Peachland ends up getting more precipitation than both Kelowna and Penticton. Despite having a shorter season due to her altitude up the mountain, Erin’s garden prospers because she has chosen plants that work with, not against, her location.
Cucurbits, formally known as Cucurbitaceae, are a plant family that includes melons, zucchinis, cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash. These all love growing up something, whether that be a mound, slope, or slanted trellis. Erin has capitalized on her slope by planting all of the previously mentioned cucurbits using various supports. Her south aspect means she gets great light and heat for growing members of the Solanaceae family, commonly known as nightshades. These include tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplants, and potatoes. Erin has tomatoes, bell peppers, and habaneros growing in her garden and is looking forward to pickling her habaneros this year. Broccolini and cauliflower of the family Brassicaceae are also among her top picks. Broccolini looks like broccoli but with smaller thinner heads, or florets, and is actually a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli.
One of the things I find most exciting is that Erin’s entire veggie garden as well as some flowers come from seeds she got at the Kelowna Seedy Saturday event. Most she started indoors to lengthen her growing season. She used a combination of two 4ft grow lights, a heat pad for underneath the nightshades, and a fan for air flow and to help strengthen the seedlings. Some things don’t need as much of a head start, especially if they are not growing fruit. Her lettuce, swiss chard, and spinach seeds were all sewed straight into the garden.
The main reason I grow so many tomatoes is because I want to have salsa on hand at all times, and I do not want to ration myself through the end of winter. Erin had the same idea but about her favourite treat, pickled beets. Last year she dedicated a whole section to just beets which perked my ears because I have been nervous to try veggies that grow under the ground… I have no idea how you tell when they’re ready or not! I have been interested in beets because their root is delicious, but I had also heard their leaves were quite yummy as well. To ease my concerns she gave me the hot tip that they actually start to swell out of the ground and you can see their tops protruding. She also suggested to not let them grow too big so you get them while they’re still sweet. Her recommendation for enjoying the beet greens is to pan fry them in a little oil, salt, and pepper. For references, resources, and more photos of Erin’s garden head to my website.
- NOAA – What is Lake-effect snow?
- Cucurbits pg 231 of Urban Farming by Thomas Fox, 2011
- Nightshades pg 228 of Urban Farming by Thomas Fox, 2011