How I Plan Out My Zone 3 Veggie Garden
If you’re a gardener in a grow zone 3, zone 2 or colder, the earlier you start planning the better. Truly! For us cold weather gardeners who need to start seeds indoors, amend our soil, plan around our last frost dates, etc…it’s never too early to start planning. The list goes on and on, and there’s a lot to think about!
This article is here to eliminate some of the stresses and worries that may come with planting a garden in a zone 3, and some of the mistakes you can avoid (because I’ve already made them for you!). I’m sharing with you how I plan out my zone 3 veggie garden in a short growing season of only 100-120 days.
For my beginner gardeners, you’ll also love this episode of The Grow Guide Podcast – Top 10 Tips For Rookie Veggie Growers.
This post covers:
- Making A Garden Workback Schedule From Your Last Frost Date
- What To Consider When Planning What To Grow In Your Veggie Garden
- 20 Of The Easiest Vegetables To Grow In A Zone 3 Garden
- 10 Of The Hardest Vegetables To Grow In A Zone 3 Garden
- What I’m Planting In My Zone 3 Veggie Garden This Year
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Making A Garden Workback Schedule From Your Last Frost Date
Planning my zone 3 garden starts when there’s still snow on the ground. I start my veggie garden planning in December-January. I know, I know — it seems SO early. But when you garden in a short growing season you need to have an action plan in place.
Being prepared will help you grow a bountiful food garden!
So first things first, if you don’t know what grow zone you’re located in, find out! Canada is divided into 10 different grow zones, ranging from zone 0 as the coldest up to a zone 9 as the warmest. Within each zone there are also sub-zones classified as ‘a’ or ‘b’.
Canada’s Plant Hardiness Zones split geographic areas into mapped zones by their annual minimum temperature extreme.
For my American gardeners, check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Map.
I personally garden in a grow zone 3b in Manitoba located just North of Winnipeg. Though we are only a 20-30 minute drive from the city, the micro-climate on our property is noticeably colder than what my fellow Winnipeg gardeners experience.
For example, the projected last frost date for our area is May 19, however I always wait until the very last week of May to plant out my tender transplants as I usually still get a few more overnight frosts.
Which brings me to the next step of planning a zone 3 veggie garden — find your last projected frost date!
A frost date is the average date of the last light freeze in Spring or the first light freeze in Fall.
My favourite tool to use for finding your first and last frost dates is The Farmer’s Almanac Local Frost Date Finder.
Enter your postal code or zip code into the search bar and it will provide you average dates. Note that these frost dates aren’t 100% accurate, as I mentioned above, but they are a good starting guide. More importantly though, understand the micro-climate that exists within your own garden.
Now that you know your last frost date for the Spring, it’s time to build your workback schedule. The former Project Manager in me loves a good workback schedule! A workback schedule is a tool used to map out each stage of a project (or the garden in this case!), working in reverse from the date when you will plant out your garden — your last frost date.
How To Organize Your Garden Workback Schedule:
- Use a digital or paper spreadsheet. Organize each column as the months until your last frost date. Organize the rows as each week.
- Looking at the days to maturity on the back of each seed pack, plug into your workback schedule when each veggie needs to be started indoors or planted outside.
- Add in other key dates, like when plants will need to be transplanted outdoors and/or hardened off.
Here’s an example of my zone 3 garden planner workback schedule. Note — this is very specific to my micro-climate and what I like to grow, so be sure to customize yours to your garden’s exact needs.
What To Consider When Planning What To Grow In Your Veggie Garden
It’s so important to know your why when you’re growing a garden. This is where I suggest you start when deciding what to plant in a zone 3 garden.
Maybe your goal is to save money on groceries. If so, plan to grow vegetables that will give you the most “bang for your buck.” Things like peas, beans, potatoes and carrots.
Or, if your goal is to spend more time outside, then grow foods that will bring you joy and make you want to get outside each day. Aromatic herbs, edible flowers and unusual veggies are great options that will keep you tending to the garden for hours.
My main garden goal is always to grow food that can feed my household for most of the Summer and Fall.
This means strategically planning how much I will need to grow to feed our household of two people. There are garden calculators you can use, but I have never found one that is completely accurate.
Instead, I think of what vegetables will store best by either freezing, preserving or storing and grow the most of those veggies. This changes year to year based on our preferences and needs. For example, I plan to grow 20+ rows of corn in 2022 so we can have lots of cobbs to feed our chickens throughout the Winter. Whereas last year I grew 10+ different types of tomatoes and froze many to use for soups and stews.
My other gardening goal is to push the envelope in terms of what I can grow in a zone 3 garden, like this incredible ginger harvest I got last season off just a few plants I had growing in a container. Ginger may be a tropical plant native to India, but with preparation and planning you CAN grow ginger in a Candian garden.
Once you’ve narrowed down your why, move on to consider what type of garden will fit with your lifestyle.
Answer this list of questions to narrow down what you should grow…and what you shouldn’t!
- How much time do I have to dedicate to my garden each day?
- What did I eat most of that I planted last season? What didn’t I eat?
- What veggies did best in my garden? And vice versa.
- How long (how many weeks) do I want to be harvesting from my garden?
- What challenges did I have last season — ie: pests, weather, soil health, etc..?
Every year, my garden changes and evolves. This is one of the wonderful parts about gardening, it’s never the same. I fall in love with new plants and ditch the vegetables that we either didn’t eat or didn’t like.
Plan your garden around your needs. Not only will it provide you what you need, but you’ll enjoy the gardening process that much more.
What Veggies Work Best In A Zone 3 Garden (And A Few That Don’t!)
There’s hundreds (if not thousands) of vegetables you can grow in a zone 3 garden. It’s not so much about what you can/can’t grow, but strategically planning out how early each vegetable needs to be started.
For example, chickpeas aren’t necessarily a crop that is well suited to my garden as they require 120+ days to grow. However, if I start them indoors in February under grow lights, I can provide them the days to maturity required and harvest come August.
Once you’ve nailed down the timing of starting each seed indoors, the other aspect is ensuring your transplanting your seedlings outside at the right date.
My how-to guide for transplant seedlings covers all this and more, including the hardening off process and transplanting tips.
Overall, the best veggies to grow in a zone 3 garden are short season crops as well as vegetables that are cold tolerant and frost resistant.
20 Of The Easiest Vegetables To Grow In A Zone 3 Garden:
- Swiss Chard
- Zucchini/Summer Squash
- Asian Greens
10 Of The Hardest Vegetables To Grow In A Zone 3 Garden:
What I’m Planting In My Zone 3 Veggie Garden This Year
This year in my 2022 zone 3 veggie garden, I’m focusing on two things:
I want to add diversity to my garden by interplanting different types of plants together, adding more of each variety rather than just trying one type of bean, tomato, etc.., and growing new and unusual plants.
I want to expand the garden by really focusing on succession planting, meaning I will be harvesting throughout the growing season rather than all at once.
We also (as always) have a few new garden expansion projects in mind, like building 4 new raised beds and rebuilding the fence around our garden so it gives us another 500 square feet of in-ground growing space.
So, what exactly am I planting in my zone 3 veggie garden? Let me paint the picture for you.
When you walk into our garden, you’re greeted by a hexagon raised bed to the left and another rectangular raised bed to the front that is 15ft. long by 4 ft. wide. The hexagon raised bed is where I plant my garlic patch. My hardneck garlic grows great here as it stays well insulated over the winter months. This was already planted in the Fall, so it requires minimal work come Spring, which is great!
If garlic is on your growing list for next year, be sure to read my How To Grow Hardneck Garlic Fall Planting Guide.
In the rectangular raised bed is where I like to have my salad and herb garden. I have mint and chives growing here as perennial herbs. In the Spring, I direct sow a variety of lettuces, spinach and arugula. My goal for this raised bed is to have it continuously evolve throughout the season.
I add in a mix of edible flowers, like nasturtiums and calendula, and then I’ll add a few tomato and pepper plants in early July. Come August, it’s time for another sowing of greens, radishes and quick growing herbs like cilantro and dill. It really is an evolving bed.
Next is the long pathway that runs through the middle of our garden and divides it in two parts.
Last year I grew sunflowers along each side. It was really pretty and created nice shade. But this year, my plan is to have a cattle panel archway of beans growing as you enter the path. Toward the middle and end of the path I’ll have a wall of sweet peas lining each side. I can’t wait!
Both sides of our garden are symmetrical with another hexagon and rectangular raised bed. In these spaces I like to grow a mix of flowers and veggies that can add some height to the beds. I add trellises and cages for vegetables like peas to grow up.
The rest of my veggies are planted in ground. The list goes on and on for what I’m planting in my zone 3 garden. I will definitely plant the classic crops that do well in a zone 3 garden as well as mix in a few unusuals. Things like quinoa, hops, tomatillos and lemongrass will definitely be planted.
And that’s my guide to zone 3 vegetable gardening and planning!
I hope these gardening tips for zone 3 were helpful for you.
If you’re planting a garden this season, be sure to connect with me on Instagram to see what else I plant.
I’m curious how you came up with the hardest to grow list. I grow 6 of them with varying levels of success most years.
Hey Krista! It is definitely subjective in some ways based on my own experience, but I also based the list off crops that require extra care and/or time to maturity. For example – lots of zone 3 gardeners grow broccoli successfully but it often requires a row cover to protect from pests. Whereas eggplants and artichokes are easy to start as seedlings but often give gardeners very small yields. Hope that clarifies things! Thanks for asking 🙂
Nice article Maggie, I especially liked your work back planner. I find it really interesting to see photos of other zone 3 gardens combined with data like when they’re ordering their seeds, starting certain things indoors, etc. (I didn’t realize chickpeas needed 120 days). I didn’t pot on/remove bottom heat quick enough (or at all in some cases) with my seedlings last year, will improve on that this time around.
Thanks Matt! Chickpeas are one of those surprising ones that need an extra long head start. But I find if you start any unusual/tropical plant early indoors, you can grow it successfully in a Zone 3 garden!