This guide is meant to act as a supplement for new Okanagan gardeners. It contains adjusted planting and seed-sowing dates, recommendations for how and when to sow seeds to extend the growing season, and how to effectively start growing seedlings indoors.
It is meant to provide an Okanagan-specific lens that can be placed on top of other online gardening videos and resources, to give your garden the best chance of success in our extreme Okanagan climate.
Some context: For the last 10 years, alongside my work as a Regenerative/Permaculture land designer, I have taught gardening and Permaculture classes and workshops in the Okanagan, often in partnership with expert local farmers and growers.
Why was this guide created?
1). I’ve realized that most of the locally-specific information and knowledge that was shared in the classes over the years is only in the hands of the few or left in old newsletters and course handouts. So I figured that during our time of crisis and possible food insecurity, that we could all benefit from being able to access at least some of this information more easily online.
2). Another reason for creating this guide, is that I’ve recently noticed a lot of information online, which is specific to coastal growing areas, being shared between Okanagan gardeners. It’s completely understandable given that people regularly move between the two areas, and because the majority of people are situated on the coast, and therefore most of the resources will be be geared to that population.
3). Quite noticeably, there is a lack of online and printed gardening resources for Okanagan home gardeners- so I would like to add a bit more, here.
This guide is not a complete resource by any means and does not include the physical depths at which to plant seeds, or much information on season extension techniques etc, so please consult other resources for this information.
For further reading, I would in particular recommend these three great gardening books: The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (out of Nova Scotia), The Zero Mile Diet (out of Van.Island), and Gaia’s Garden– a packed resource and an essential book to have on hand (the links will take you to my reviews of those books).
Some of the main differences between growing on the Coast and growing in the Okanagan:
- The Okanagan growing season is short and intense going from May to October (but we can extend the season either side by using various techniques- some are listed below and the Year Round Vegetable Gardener book listed above is a great resource on how to do this).
- Harvesting generally finishes by mid-October, with some crops lasting several more weeks, benefiting from a couple of light frosts which start to convert their starch to sugar, including brassicas (kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), beets, root crops (this does not work for potatoes) and storage squashes.
- Leafy greens such as chard and kale, that can often be grown outside throughout the winter in coastal climates, will freeze in the Okanagan. However, you can leave any kale plants in the ground and they will re-sprout in the spring.
- Be aware that sowing and planting times provided by most available online charts (eg there is a great one by West Coast Seeds) are not entirely accurate for the Okanagan.
When to sow seeds and transplant seedlings
Many greens seeds can be sown directly outside as early as February if they are protected from frost by a cold-frame or polytunnel/plastic tunnel/tent. Plants like arugula that are already in a cold-frame and left to go to seed in the fall will produce literally a carpet of arugula by February, with no work necessary!
Seedlings can be planted outside in March if they are well protected by a cold-frame or polytunnel/plastic tunnel. Transplanting seedlings (leafy greens, tomatoes etc) outside is safest to do after the last frost, which is generally after the full moon in May (for some reason the full moon creates less cloud in the sky so there is more risk of frost on that night). That said, take a look at historical night-time low temperatures for your area and keep an eye on the weather forecast. In this time of climate change, there is no ‘new normal’- the only thing we can predict is more unpredictability, so base your decisions and calculate risk based on all the data available to you at the time.
Generally for peas and broad beans, when the night-time temperature stays above -5C (usually by the end of March) we can start sowing those seeds directly outside.
And if your garden beds are covered in an insulating layer of 2 inches of straw, or covered with a fleece row-cover, then you can also get away with sowing lettuce, corn salad, beet, carrot, chard, cabbage, spinach, kale and herb seeds. Most all other seeds can be started indoors or in a greenhouse/ polytunnel and then transplanted out after the last frost in May.
Seeds of peas, fava/broad beans, spinach, poppies and corn salad (aka mâche or lamb’s lettuce) all benefit from some cold stratification, and can be planted directly in the soil even when it’s dappled with a dusting of snow. They can also be grown inside and transplanted later, if there is any risk of rodents or wildlife chewing young seedlings, or eating the seeds.
Tomato, pepper, basil and eggplant seeds should be started indoors under grow lights in February, or better yet in a polytunnel outside, as they will have more adequate light, which keeps the plants strong and compact/not ‘leggy’. Accelerate their growth by warming up the soil with heating pads placed underneath the trays -the seeds will germinate in about half the time!
All pole and bush beans, melon, cucumber, and squash seeds should only be sown 2 weeks before planting them out in the garden, as otherwise they get too long/leggy, and there is increased risk of breaking the stems when they are transplanted outside.
Simple Seeding Mix Recipe:
For every 10 litres of OMRI certified Pro-Mix potting soil (or peat moss), add several handfuls of both vermiculite and perlite (or just perlite if that’s all which is available) to increase mineral content and moisture retention respectively, along with 3-4 cups of worm castings or well-rotted compost (ie sieved Glengrow- available (not sieved) through the City of Kelowna) or preferably organic OMRI certified compost, to give the plants a nutrient boost.
Be sure to wet the soil mix before it is added to the seeding trays/pots. This will prevent the soil from moving when water is added, and then you can avoid displacing and moving the seeds around too much. Move your pots or trays of seeds to their semi-permanent location, then finish watering the soil/ ‘watering them in’; this will help prevent the trays from bending or cracking from too much weight, and they’re just easier to move this way.
Where to Place the Seedlings?
Seedlings should be placed next to a south or south-east/south-west-facing window so the plants have access to adequate sunshine, otherwise (as with the beans etc) they can easily become leggy/over-stretched and more susceptible to damage from the elements when planted-out.
For the serious or seasoned gardener, it is worth setting up either an outdoor polytunnel or greenhouse, or purchasing grow-lights (these are different than fluorescent lights), which can be suspended from standard plant-growing shelf racks available for $20 at Home Depot/Rona (see above image). The lights are available from marijuana growing supply stores; they are expensive- between $50-$100 depending on the size and type- so if you have the space, creating a polytunnel outside is far more affordable. The grow-lights should be placed 4-6 inches away from the top of the plants to provide optimum access to the light, without the risk of burning the plants.
I hope these tips can help your garden to be the best it can possibly be this growing season! If you would like more specific advice tailored to what you are growing and to your property, then do get in touch and we can set up an online or in-person consultation.
Additionally, please let me know if you found this to be a useful resource. If not, then let me know that too and I will happily update it : )