The Northeast region of the United States undergoes four distinct seasons. The intensity and duration of each season varies from year to year; however, for the most part, gardeners can anticipate cool springs, hot summers, warm autumns and cold winters. No single weather pattern dominates for any extended time and so Northeast gardeners choose vegetables for variety rather than longevity.
Plan ahead to get the most out of the relatively short season you will have for any particular vegetable. Choose the site for your vegetable garden where you will receive the most amount of sun, at least six hours per day. Protect the vegetables from high winds. Choose a location where the soil drains well or where you can improve the drainage. Prepare the soil in fall for planting in the next spring. Choose vegetables that you want to eat or can give away to friends and neighbors. Rotate your crops to reduce the instances of disease and pests. Anticipate that you will experience severe weather at some point in the growing season and develop a plan to protect your plants. Expect to water more frequently during dry stretches, provide shade during excessively hot stretches, and drain away water during extended rain periods.
To extend the gardening season, many gardeners in the Northeast begin plants indoors and transplant the seedlings when the outside temperatures are warmer. The benefit over directly sowing the seeds into the ground is that the plants can start to grow indoors even while the ground is frozen, temperatures too low or there is not enough daily sunlight. Use historical temperature data and extended forecasts to figure out when the temperature will be high enough to transfer the vegetable seedlings outdoors safely. Count back from that date to get the date to start the plants indoors. Refer to charts for your area, such as the guide the University of New Hampshire provides for Timing Vegetable Transplants, to determine specific dates to start the seeds and move them out to the garden.
No one general description captures all soil types in the Northeast; however, data from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Web Soil Survey, shows numerous areas in the Northeast with a predominantly loam soil. Loam is a good starting point for most vegetables. Examine the soil in your garden to determine if it has the necessary ingredients for the specific vegetables you wish to grow. In general, the darker the soil, the more organic material it holds. Check whether the soil drains properly. While many vegetables require a fair amount of water during the growing season, they do not tolerate sitting in soggy soil for long periods. Look to see how much water pools in the area after a heavy rain. Dig down below the top layers to examine the soil condition to see if you can improve drainage with tilling or by adding gravel.
The Northeast experiences many weeks of cooler temperatures in spring and fall that allow gardeners to raise plants that do not tolerate hot weather. Lettuce bolts during hot weather, but thrives with full sun and moderate temperatures common to Northeast spring days and evenings. Most lettuce varieties will also survive a light frost, which is also common in early spring in the Northeast. Cabbage thrives when daytime temperatures are in the 60’s. Radishes grow best when temperatures average between 50 and 65 degrees F. Cornell University’s Vegetable Growing Guide cautions “hot weather reduces quality and increases pungency” of the radishes. Sow hot weather vegetables in beds with cool season vegetables to conserve garden space.
Temperatures can reach into the 100’s during the height of the summer in the Northeast. Humid days and warm nights are ideal growing conditions for many vegetables. Bell peppers demand warm temperatures, “cold temperatures can weaken plants and they may never fully recover,” according to the Cornell University Vegetable Growing Guide. Zucchini is a low-maintenance vegetable; however, they like warm soil and are very sensitive to frost. Cold soil and air temperatures cause stress for tomatoes. Tomato transplants need temperatures above 70 F to grow. Summer thunderstorms may provide enough water for warm weather plants, but each gardener must monitor their plants and provide sufficient water. During long, hot and dry periods, this may mean you must water the vegetables daily or several times a week.