Short Growing Seasons and Cold Winters

Check out readers’ tips on gardening up north, homemade bailers, recycled greenhouses, removing rebar, and more.

| October/November 2019

Rick has had success growing Painted Mountain corn and Blacktail Mountain watermelon in frigid northern Minnesota. Photo by Dave Christensen

Adventures Up North

When we moved to northern Minnesota 15 years ago, we had limited expectations as to what we could grow with a short season and cold winters. However, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find some cultivars that have done exceptionally well for us.

Our Goddess Hybrid muskmelon has consistently produced 4 to 8 pounds of sweet melons. By starting the plants indoors, we get a head start on the growing season. Then, we hand-pollinate the first female blossoms and only leave two or three melons on each plant. By staggering the planting by a couple of weeks, our harvest period is extended. We use the same method for Blacktail Mountain watermelon. Many of our melons weigh over 10 pounds and are very sweet if they’re allowed to fully ripen. This cultivar is open-pollinated.

In searching for corn to grind into flour and cornmeal, we found Painted Mountain, a flint corn developed over a 40-year period from a gene pool of more than 70 strains of native corn. It has a short growing season that allows the cobs to ripen and dry out, even in Zone 3a. As its name suggests, its ears have many different colors of kernels. It’s very high in protein and anthocyanins.

Our honeyberries are producing well for us. In 2018, our 36-bush orchard yielded more than 80 quarts of berries, even though the bushes hadn’t yet reached full maturity. Also known as “haskaps,” the berries are blue and taste similar to a tart blueberry. We eat them raw, put them on our oatmeal, and use them to make jam. The bushes are hardy and survive even Zone 2 winters. They bloom early, and their blossoms can survive temperatures down to the midteens. By mid-July, we’re picking pails full of plump berries. Two cultivars are needed for pollination. We started with Aurora and Borealis. Aurora is an upright bush, reaching about 6 feet tall when mature, and has done exceptionally well for us. Borealis is shorter, with the branches close to the ground, and it’s much more likely to have moldy berries. We’re replacing Borealis with Honey Bee, which is an upright bush. The birds love the berries, too, so bird netting is essential. The new bushes can be planted in spring or fall. We’ve found that planting dormant bushes in fall works best for us. It only takes a year or two for the bushes to begin bearing fruit.

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