Gardening has always been a strong tradition here in Newfoundland, and for good reason. Newfoundland is a great place for agriculture. Humans have pursued gardening as an endeavor since our species first started cultivating plants some 12,000 years ago.
Today, agriculture plays a pivotal role in human civilization and our expansion across the globe. It’s what makes it possible to have 8 billion of us on the planet. Without agriculture, we would not have enough food to eat and people would starve.
Because of our special climate, coastal gardening here in Newfoundland poses its own set of challenges and opportunities. Although the growing season here is shorter, one can grow most crops successfully here in Newfoundland, and while traditional plants like potatoes, cabbage, turnip, and carrot are always a hit, you can grow so much more and have a lot of fun doing it. Kale, Swiss Chard, and Asian greens are fun and rewarding plants that are both easy to grow and produce tasty food all summer long. Once planted, perennials like asparagus, strawberries, and rhubarb will keep coming back year after year and get better over time.
Around Newfoundland’s Southern Avalon Peninsula, a shorter growing season usually means not putting plants outside until the first week of June.
Some people say to wait until Father’s Day to plant certain crops like potatoes. Other’s say to wait until the first full moon in June. You can cheat and put your plants out early but there is a lot of wisdom associated with listening to local knowledge. Planting too early means a greater risk of succumbing to a spring frost. Put your plants out too early and you risk stunting or killing them.
Shoot for the start of June and make your plan around the long term forecast.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a greenhouse, you can start crops much earlier, giving you access to fresh daily greens starting in May.
Even if you don’t have access to a greenhouse, you can easily build a cold frame or rudimentary garden tent out of wood or logs and some clear plastic sheeting. In a pinch, raised beds can be covered with plastic at night if there is a risk of spring frost.
In the early season, the best crops to plant inside a greenhouse are salads like spinach, swiss chard, mustard, arugula, and mixed greens. These greens can tolerate cold well and grow best in mild temperatures.
Later, as temperatures heat up, use the greenhouse for heat-loving plants like tomatoes and move your mixed green production outdoors.
Successive planting is the key to harvesting lots of greens in the early season.
You can plant seeds, then a week later plant more seeds at the base of the plants that have now started to sprout from a week earlier. This will ensure you will always have more salad growing.
Planting spinach in Newfoundland is especially great since it thrives in our cooler spring daytime temperatures. Trim the leaves with a clean sharp knife as you need them and more will grow back to take their place.
While starting with salads in your greenhouse, you can concurrently germinate some tomato plants indoors during this time.
Starting your tomato plants early and indoors will give them an ahead start and, since tomatoes require more heat units than leafy greens, they can grow in an ideal environment until it’s warm enough to put them inside the greenhouse.
While it is possible to grow tomatoes outside in certain Newfoundland microclimates, because tomatoes are heat-loving plants that grow best in sheltered warm areas, growing them in a greenhouse is ideal.
No Greenhouse? No Problem! Strawberries can be planted outside in the spring as soon as the soil is workable. They will spread, proliferate, and come back year after year. Same with plants like rhubarb and asparagus.
Greens like rapeseed are great to sew directly into the soil outdoors and will grow quickly, ready to harvest in 5 to 6 weeks. The great thing about planting perennials like strawberries and asparagus is they will come back year after year.
Potatoes are another great crop to grow. Get a bag of seed potatoes, dig some trenches, and go to town planting. Potatoes are easy to grow here in Newfoundland since coastal Newfoundland soil tends to be a little on the acidic side, exactly the way potatoes like it.
Potatoes are a lot of fun to grow and harvest. Potatoes like water and soil that is rich in nutrients.
PRO TIP: You will know your potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow
Whether you’re a seasoned Newfoundland Gardener or this is your first time planting a garden, Newfoundland gardening is fun and rewarding. There is nothing better than growing your own food and developing a connection to where your food comes from.
It’s easy to do, and, just like anything, the more you do it the better you get. This is the year of the gardener, and with more people getting into home gardening then ever before, there is no better time to green up your thumb and take on a Newfoundland gardening project of your own.
Feeding your Newfoundland Garden is important. If you’re growing organically like us, you can feed your garden with Newfoundland seaweed compost from the beach, garden compost made from your food scraps, and compost tea. Animals like the whale house ducks provide a great fertilization service to the garden by picking insects from the garden and fertilizing the crops as they go.
Are you growing your own garden here in Newfoundland? What crops are you growing in your Newfoundland garden? Let us know what’s growing on in the comments below.