The beautiful Okanagan Valley of southern central British Columbia runs approximately 150 miles from the U.S. border in the south to the Shuswap Lakes in the north. The climate is mild and dry with rainfall averaging just 10 inches per year. The valley is well known for its wineries, fruit orchards and vegetable production, especially in the south, where the town of Oliver is the self-described wine capital of Canada. Located in the central Okanagan 245 miles east of Vancouver, Kelowna is the largest city in the region with a population of 106,000.
The main soil types of the Okanagan Valley are sandy loams and clays, although deep sands predominate in the very dry south around Osoyoos. The valley lies between the Coast and Monashee Mountain ranges which create a rain shadow effect. This accounts for the low annual rainfall and means vegetable gardeners must provide plenty of water to keep their crops growing. Sunshine is abundant with most of the Okanagan receiving 2,000 or more hours each year.
Preparing the Garden
Level, well exposed locations are the best sites for a vegetable garden. On sloped land a southern exposure should be chosen if available. All vegetation including roots needs to be removed for the plot prior to amending with organic materials such as compost or manure. This is particularly important for very sandy soils which will drain wonderfully but are often very low in nutrients. Try to spread at least 6 inches of organics on the plot and dig it in. Allow this to break down into the soil for a few days before planting.
The risk of frost has usually passed by the end of April in most of the Okanagan. Cool season crop such as onions, beets, cabbage and lettuce can be planted a three to four ahead of this. Plant vegetables in rows oriented north to south as this maximizes their exposure to light. Also keep taller crops like corn and pole beans on the north side of the garden so they don’t overshadow the smaller varieties. Follow seed packet directions on spacing and depth carefully when planting and keep the soil moist after planting. Applying a fine spray of water by hand is adequate.
What to Grow
With a growing season averaging 160 days and plenty of warm sunshine, virtually any vegetable crop will thrive in the Okanagan Valley. Tomatoes are a popular crop in the dry southern valley. There are always plenty of ready buyers in the wetter regions of British Columbia where tomatoes are notoriously difficult to cultivate. You can’t drive very far in the south Okanagan without finding fruit and vegetable stands when the season is on. These are the best places to get ideas for a new garden.
Once the garden is planted, weeding and watering become the most important daily tasks. Weeds can quickly deprive young vegetable plants of nutrients and need to be removed as soon as possible. Once the plants have sprouted watering should be concentrated on the ground. Vegetables are more likely to remain disease and insect free if the foliage can be kept dry most of the time. Soaker hoses are very effective when laid out between the rows and can save a lot of time. Vegetables need at least an inch of water per week and this is best applied very early in the day.