Last year (2010) we had a cool spring and a cool, short summer. No one had a ripe tomato until damn near September. The heat loving tomatoes, squash, corn, etc. didn’t thrive, and so a lot of gardeners said it was a terrible, terrible year.
I disagree! I had the best year ever for cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, broccoli, etc. The cool season crops flew through the heat of August without a moment of stress and got huge and delicious. I was harvesting the best lettuce ever continuously for the entire season. Arugula and spinach lasted more than 45 minutes before bolting! Sure it would have been nice to have a few more sauce tomatoes and a few less green tomato pickles (ok, I’ll be frank: there’s no way we are going to eat the gallons of green tomato pickles I put up late last summer). But we had enough early ripening cherry tomatoes to sprinkle on our huge daily salads.
I think the lesson in this is diversify your planting and don’t be afraid to turn your back on your “must grow” heat-lovers if your space is limited and the nights are too cool to ripen them. Shovel prune (i.e, dig and toss) heat lovers that are failing to thrive, or are so stressed by the lack of heat that pests come find them from miles around. The most valuable thing in our urban homestead garden is square footage and a window of opportunity. Every piece of garden soil needs to be as productive as possible over as long as possible. Some years, that means bushels of zucchini and cucumbers from just a few square feet. Some cooler years it’ll mean hundreds of heads of lettuce instead.
Gardeners are a funny bunch. The more I meet, the more we seem to be doom-and-gloom nature gossips. “The weather this year is so bad! Nothing will ripen!” or “Can you believe this heat? I can’t keep my spinach from running to seed no matter what I do!” or “I think I just found a grasshopper. Plague’s a-commin’ for sure.” In a climate like the Pacific Northwest, where we can grow something just about all year round, I think this is attitude is just silly. Work with what you have, be grateful for what you have, learn to eat kale and cloche your beds, and try not to bemoan what you can’t control anyway.4