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Best Vegetables to Grow in British Columbia and Cold Climates

Welcome to British Columbia, home of the mildest climate in Canada. If you’re new to the province, you might be wondering what that means for you as a gardener. Spoiler: It’s good! With a little careful timing, most vegetables will thrive in British Columbia.

British Columbia’s Climate 

I know you’re excited! But, before planting anything, it’s vital to understand your climate. As a general rule, Coastal British Columbia is Zone 8 or 9. If you live in Central British Columbia, you’ll likely fall into Zone 5 or 6.

Within zones, some microclimates can be warmer or cooler. For example, the weather is warm enough in some areas of Southern Vancouver Island that lemons and olives can be grown, which is not typical for the climate!

So, remember that geographical factors can make your yard slightly warmer (or cooler) than the surrounding area. It may take a few seasons before you understand the climate within your yard in depth. Until then, use the climate zone maps as a guide.

Did you know?

If you want to know for sure what plants grow in your region of British Columbia, then you need your plant hardiness zone maps!

These are the best British Columbia plant hardiness zone maps that I could find. You can download a page-size PDF – or a massive poster-size PDF. For free!

Studying the hardiness zone map is the best and safest way to determine what grows in your region of British Columbia.

British Columbia Vegetable Garden Planting Schedule

If you want to maximize the growing season, timing is everything. British Columbia’s climate is one of the best in the country for gardening, but it still isn’t very long. 

Each gardening year can divide into four phases:

  • Cool-season: April – May 
  • Warm-season: June – August 
  • Cool-season: September – October 
  • Cold-season: November – March

Depending on where you live, the exact dates of the seasons might vary. Even from year to year, the growing periods aren’t (necessarily) consistent. 

Most gardening is best in the warm summer season. But you’ll notice that there are two cool seasons. These shoulder seasons between the scorching heat of the summer and the bitter cold of the winter can be a tremendous opportunity to squeeze a little extra out of your garden.

Best Vegetables to Grow in the Cool Season

purple and white turnip in the garden soil
Here you see a beautiful turnip (Brassica rapa) approaching the harvest. Turnips grow best with temperatures ranging from the 50s to 60s (Fahrenheit.) Sliced turnip bulbs taste great in salads – and turnip also makes underrated forage crops for your cattle.

The second the soil is workable, and the temperatures are around Four degrees Celsius, it’s time to sow cool-season crops! In coastal British Columbia, the cold season can start as early as February or March.

Cool-season crops that you can direct sow include vegetables like:

The cool growing season is our favorite for growing plenty of thick leafy greens – perfect for hot and savory winter soups – or fresh salads.

Best Vegetables to Grow in the Warm Season

Once the temperatures are reliably above ten degrees Celsius, you can turn your attention to warm-season crops. 

The following warm-season crops can be direct sown: 

  • Beets
  • Bush and Pole Beans 
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer Squash (Zucchini and Pattypan)

Many gardeners in Canada say that May long weekend marks the perfect time to plant summer gardens.

Transplants 

Despite how mild the weather is, you will need to give some plants a head start. Pay attention to your crops that take a long time to mature. Plants that mature slowly can require additional planning and the use of a south-facing window.

Start the following plants from seed indoors:  

  • Cabbage (start eight to ten weeks before the last frost)
  • Cauliflower (start four weeks before the last frost)
  • Eggplants (start four weeks after the last frost)
  • Melons (start four to six weeks after the last frost)
  • Tomatoes (start six to eight weeks before the last frost)
  • Winter Squash – Butternut, Acorn, Kabocha, and Spaghetti (start two weeks after the last frost)

You can direct sow winter squash once the soil warms, but I like to start mine indoors. For Winter Squash to cure, they need time in the sunshine to thicken the rind so you can store them throughout the winter. If you sow squash directly into the soil, you may need to harvest early and cure the squash indoors. 

Read More – How to Harvest Kale so That It Keeps Growing!

Winter Gardens

big box of fresh garden kale harvest
Kale grows best with at least 5 – 6 hours of sunlight per day. Kale loves temperatures in the 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit) and can survive overnight frosts. It’s also famously cold-hardy. Perfect for British Columbia gardens!

Particularly in British Columbia, it is possible to have a winter garden. A winter garden contains cold-hardy crops that continue to grow (albeit slowly) throughout the cold season – quite often surviving snow. Winter harvests are our favorite!

To plant a winter garden, you should direct sow or plant starters in July or August so that they mature in the fall and winter. 

Crops you might include in a winter garden include: 

  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale 
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Pac Choi
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Radish 
  • Rutabaga
  • Spinach 
  • Swiss Chard 
  • Turnips 

When choosing crops for your winter garden, you want to make sure you choose vegetables that are not sensitive to frost. For that reason, members of the brassica family (and root vegetables) tend to make up some of the most common winter garden veggies.

Read More – The Best Winter Vegetables for Greenhouse Gardens!

What Are the Easiest Vegetables to Grow in British Columbia?

raw winter vegetables cold crops
Here’s an abundant trove of cold-weather gardening goodies! Garlic, carrots, onions, winter squash, and kale. Perfect for cold temperatures, British Columbia gardens, – and savory meals.

Here are ten of my favorites: 

Rhubarb

Once this perennial vegetable has had a couple of years to establish itself, it will shoot up a bounty of stalks each spring. These plants can produce for upwards of 20 years. And they taste so sweet!

Garlic 

Garlic is the perfect crop for the gardener with little time—that encapsulates all of us! Doesn’t it? Plant the cloves in late October and mulch with a couple of inches of straw to suppress weed growth.

In early spring, the garlic will sprout. The plants will be ready to harvest in July when the bottom leaves have died back. Stop watering your garlic a few weeks before harvest! 

Peas

Peas grow fast! Their hasty growth makes them the perfect plant to take advantage of the chilly season. Choose edible pod varieties to save time on shelling.

You can safely plant peas in the soil whenever the soil is soft enough for your fingers to work. English peas are our favorite!

Beans

There is such an incredible variety of beans, lentils, and legumes on the market for farmers and gardeners!

They are vigorous and prolific plants that are easy to care for, and I love to try new bean varieties. You can also grow beans on a trellis or pole to keep your garden organized.

Zucchini

This garden powerhouse will keep your bellies full all summer. These plants are wildly productive and lead to abundantly creative cooking.

Zucchini chocolate cake, anyone?

What about zucchini parmesan – or deep-fried zucchini sticks? Yes, please! Don’t forget the homemade tomato sauce for dipping!

Lettuce

If you pick an area of the yard with partial shade, you can grow lettuce for much of the growing season. Ideally, you want to give lettuce at least six hours of sun per day. There are many varieties to try!

Carrots

Carrots will tolerate a wide range of growing conditions and usually store remarkably well in the ground. I have harvested carrots well into the fall, sometimes even early winter, and the carrots always come up sweet and crunchy.

Radish

Radishes grow fast – so quickly that they are often one of the first things I harvest from my garden! Fun fact: The seedpods of the radish are edible too. 

Pumpkin

If you have space in your garden, pumpkins are an excellent addition to your homestead. They are easy to grow and can provide oodles of fruit for pies, soups, and fall displays. They’re the best if you can harvest them around Halloween!

Kale

Drought tolerant and cold tolerant, kale is one hardy biennial. It will tolerate summer heatwaves and continue growing throughout the fall and winter. Perfect for fresh salads or adding into soups.

Gardening in British Columbia FAQs

harvested parsnips in lush garden soil
Parsnips are one of the unsung heroes of BC gardens! Parsnips germinate best when soil temperatures reach around 60 degrees. Parsnips dislike hot temperatures – and will slow production when the temperature exceeds 70 to 75 degrees.

Do you still have questions? That’s okay! 

Here are some of the most common questions people have about gardening in BC.

When to Plant Vegetables in British Columbia?

Every day is a good day to plant a vegetable, but spring is usually the start of the growing season.

Pay attention to the final frost date of your area. Most vegetables will come with planting instructions that reference the last frost date. In Coastal BC, the final frost date of the season is usually in March. In the Interior, it tends to be in May.

It is vital to realize that no one knows what the last frost date will be for sure. These dates are just a reference based on historical data. Some years are milder or harsher than others. Some years, you have to cross your fingers and go!

(Here’s an excellent source on Canadian hardiness zones if you need more of a reference.)

What Should I Plant in My Vegetable Garden First?

Cool-season crops are the first to go in the ground. My favorite first planters include frost-tolerant plants like peas, carrots, radish, lettuce, and kale. You never know when a nighttime frost might surprise you, especially in the spring!

What Is the Easiest Vegetable to Grow in Your Garden? 

Kale is one of the easiest vegetables to grow because it accepts diverse temperatures and growing conditions. This robust plant is not frost-sensitive. The leaves are much sweeter once they’ve experienced the cold. Kale can also tolerate drought or heavy rains. 

To grow kale? Plant seeds early in the spring when the garden soil feels workable. It should germinate in seven to ten days. With spring in BC being so damp, likely, you won’t even need to water it until later in the spring.

Some gardeners say growing kale is as easy as growing weeds. It is not uncommon for kale plants to live through a British Columbian winter and into the following spring.

What Vegetables Should I Grow In My First Garden?

If it’s your first year gardening in British Columbia, keep it simple. Choose plants that are easy to grow

Some vegetables that grow well in British Columbia include: 

  • Peas
  • Beans 
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini 
  • Potato
  • Kale
  • Radish

Above all, choose veggies that you love to eat!

What Is the Fastest-Growing Garden Vegetable?

Quick-growing veggies are perfect for spring or fall gardens when time is limited. Fast-growing veggies include: 

  • Radish – 25 days
  • Lettuce – 21 days 
  • Spinach – 30 days 
  • Pac Choi – 45 days 

British Columbia’s mild climate makes it one of the best places to grow vegetables. Growing your vegetables can help you cut down on grocery costs, increase the vitamin content of your food, provide much-needed time to destress, get some exercise outside, or learn something new.

Fresh garden veggies also taste better than anything else!

So, I hope you make the most of the weather and see what you can grow.

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08/10/2022 09:22 pm GMT

Conclusion

As a British Columbian gardener, you have plenty of options for an abundant and bountiful garden.

Root crops work wonders. And, you can grow as many salad greens as you can handle!

We hoped our list of winter crops makes your homesteading tasks easier.

If you have more questions about the best vegetables for British Columbia gardens, then let us know.

Or – if you have tips or stories about growing crops in the cold weather, we’d love to hear them.

Thanks again for reading.

Have a great day!

Read More – Chokeberry vs. Chokecherry! Safe to Eat? Or Not?

Author

  • Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.

Paul Sims

Friday 1st of April 2022

What part of BC do you garden. We are in the north Skeena region. approx. 800 feet elevation My big issue is how to amend the soil properly. what does it need? what do I add?