Reap What You Sow
Starting your own vegetables from seed is time consuming—but worth the work—for Cape Cod gardens.
The pleasure of vegetable gardening never grows old. Even on Cape Cod—where variable soil conditions range from sandy to solid clay and erratic weather patterns run from humid summers to cold storm-battered autumns—there’s nothing like growing your own tomatoes, beans, brussels sprouts, lettuce, or whatever vegetable suits your fancy.
The gardening season on Cape Cod and the Islands is longer than in many other New England regions. The surrounding ocean warms things up every summer, which is why this area has a hardiness designation of Zone 7. Zone 7 stretches from Cape Cod to Georgia and includes places like Charlotte, North Carolina.
There are gardeners on the cooler Cape Cod Bay side who sometimes say their hardiness zone is Zone 6 (anyone who swims on both sides of this sand bar knows that the ocean side is way more balmy because the Gulf Stream’s eddies warm our water). Still, gardeners all over Cape Cod are much more fortunate than those in much of New England, where hardiness areas can dip down to Zone 4.
Much of my gardening life was spent in Zone 5, in a suburb of Worcester known for its extremely rocky soil. In Grafton, a town known as Hassanamesit (or “Land of Small Stones”) by the Nipmuc Indians, it was hard to dig more than a foot in any direction without hitting a rock or two. I despaired when I tried to dig my first vegetable garden in Grafton, knowing I had to add compost to rock-free, healthy soil for vegetables to flourish in Central New England’s short growing season. Grafton’s soil, however, was black gold compared to Cape Cod soil.
On our Centerville property, which is comprised mostly of old farm land, the soil is actually quite good for growing vegetables, especially on Cape Cod. There is at least 10-12 inches of loamy top soil, perhaps because the land around our old house has benefited from eons of decomposing plant material. Still, when we had a new septic system put in several years ago, I saw that the good soil lies atop pure sand, which is great for drainage, but tough for soil’s all-important water retention.