How do people survive here???

Violetjune Zone 3June 4, 2013

We moved to Calgary during the past winter from Edmonton. I always thought the climate in the two cities was very similar, and that if anything, Edmonton had the harsher climate. Now that I'm here, that doesn't seem to be the case. I woke up to frost on the rooftops this morning! In June! My tomatoes look okay, but I'm starting to see why my next-door neighbour told me, "You can't ripen tomatoes here without a greenhouse." Of course, now it's my mission to prove that putting fifteen or so tomatoes in wasn't totally misguided.

So what's the secret to success here? Or do you just have to be a little crazy to keep trying?

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shazam_z3

Heh heh heh.

Calgary is unique. Compared to Edmonton, we are at a higher elevation which means cooler nights. We also get less heat unit accumulation.

Also we have chinooks, less snow, more hail, more sunshine, less rain and our soil is alkaline. Also our first frost free day is around the May long weekend, and we only have around 110 growing days versus Edmonton's 130.

You don't need a greenhouse to ripen tomatoes. Some sort of plastic cover greatly helps though :)

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 11:29AM
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Violetjune Zone 3

Thanks, I think "unique" is a good word. It's not that Edmonton was always easy - we had hail there that wiped out almost everything we had last year. But you could usually count on good snow cover for your perennials and when the forecast said a low of 9 you could usually assume there would be no frost that night!

Well, I guess this is a climate that poses a challenge. That's fine, it's just hard to have so many challenges all at once!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 2:12PM
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shazam_z3

Where are you located? I think we just got below the dew point is all.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 2:53PM
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Violetjune Zone 3

I am in the southeast - far south but not too far east. Could you explain to me what you mean? I saw frost on the rooftops this morning but I don't think there was any on the ground.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 3:36PM
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shazam_z3

Dew point is the temperature where water vapour condenses from the atmosphere. Due to our elevation the thinner air cannot hold as much moisture as, say, Edmonton so our dew point is higher.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 4:51PM
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shazam_z3

Dew point is the temperature where water vapour condenses from the atmosphere. Due to our elevation the thinner air cannot hold as much moisture as, say, Edmonton so our dew point is higher.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 4:52PM
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gopats(3a)

Lol. I had a good time reading that. I remember feeling the same way. I grew up in central Alberta. My dad (the gardener) just wouldn't believe me when I said we had frost mid June one year. I basically gave up on growing tomatoes from seed outdoors. I've only had success growing them indoors. Last summer I gave up and built a greenhouse from old windows. Loving it!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 7:25PM
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ostrich(3a AB)

ROTFLOL! My cousins live up in Edmonton and I would not dare going up there during winter....

Now, how to people survive here??? What about "how do PLANTS survive here!?" LOL

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 9:10PM
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Violetjune Zone 3

Shazam, I think I understand what you're saying about the dew point, except I did see frost on the rooftops. When the temperature drops below the dewpoint, wouldn't it just leave water and not frost, unless it's actually below zero?

Anyway, I wasn't too sure about Edmonton when we first moved there, so I spent quite a bit of time convincing myself that it was a great place to be, at least for gardening. Now I have to find a new narrative for this climate! So if anyone can think of some good points about living in a Chinook zone close to the mountains, please share!

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 10:10AM
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shazam_z3

I'd be very surprised if you actually had frost. Did you have frost on any plants?

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 11:58AM
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weeper_11(2b SK)

We had frost near our place a couple of days ago too; we live on a hill, though, and it missed us.

LOL, each prairie province comes with it's own difficulties. I routinely think that Saskatchewan has the worst winters out of the three! One big benefit of the chinook zone is that your temps are regularly a good 10 degrees warmer than ours in during the winter! You do get more yo-yo weather in late winter and spring, but you also get more respites from bitterly cold weather. It's hard on plants but a nice break for people. Plus, there are definitely some perennials that my cousins near Calgary can always over winter that often die out here. I think you are at least a zone or 2 higher than we are.

Things aren't so bad! You just have to get used to them. You should definitely be able to grow tomatoes just fine outside, especially if you have a sheltered, warm spot. You just need to start with transplants, like almost everyone else. :)

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 1:04PM
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Slimy_Okra(2b)

Generally, both winters and summers get more extreme from west to east across the Prairies. There are exceptions of course, such as Medicine Hat, a low and warm spot in Alberta.

Calgary's climate with its relatively early springs and springlike weather that goes right through the summer, is good for growing cool-weather crops like peas and chard. For warmth-loving crops, Winnipeg is a much better place. Not in every year though: Winnipeg recorded -5 C in June 2009.

If you want a dependably long frost-free season in Alberta, the best places are around Taber and Medicine Hat.

Regarding dew point: once the air temperature has dropped to the dew point, fog forms, which greatly slows any subsequent drop in temperature. This is not without exceptions of course. You can get a good idea of the overnight low by looking at the dew point late at night.

As for why your tomatoes were undamaged - surfaces like rooftops can get much colder than the air.

This post was edited by Slimy_Okra on Thu, Jun 6, 13 at 1:26

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 12:08AM
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Violetjune Zone 3

Yes, shazam, there was frost, but only on the rooftops. There didn't actually appear to be any on the ground.

Thanks slimy okra for the mention of cool season crops. I could have put peas in a lot earlier this year than I did. Maybe we'll focus on that kind of thing more in the future - but nothing beats tomatoes! I never expected to grow them from seed anyway - my strategy is to start them indoors way too early and put them out with flowers already on them. Whenever I've put them in small, like many books suggest, they just - stay small.

So - looking forward to new challenges!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 10:14AM
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donna_in_sask

My mother moved from Saskatoon to Calgary years ago. She used to have a huge garden but since living in Calgary, it has been downsized greatly. It is a challenging growing climate for sure, but she also has to deal with rabbits eating everything that isn't fenced off.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 11:02AM
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donaldvancouver(cool wet z8)

Calgary is the New York, New York of gardening: If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 10:07PM
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shazam_z3

You should be fairly close to the McKenzie Lake weather station, you didn't get frost but it did get quite low (3.4C)

Here is a link that might be useful: Weather Underground

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 4:50PM
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Violetjune Zone 3

That weather underground site is great! I'm not that close to McKenzie Lake but I found a weather station that appears to be only a few blocks from my house. It's quite interesting to see the variations in temperature - it's cooler down in the valley nearby and warmer in some other neighbourhoods. Some of this could be due to variations in how it's reported, but I've been counting on reports from the International Airport, which is a half-hour drive north of my house. This should be more accurate for daily highs and lows.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 3:02PM
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