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What works -- and what doesn't -- in Milwaukee's short gardening season

Growing your own garden in Milwaukee can be frustrating. There is only a short window of time the weather allows crops to grow successfully. And how can you be sure whether it's safe to plant a tomato when you're paranoid there might be snow in May?

Here is what you need to know as you try your hand at sustaining a home garden in Milwaukee this summer.

UPDATE: be sure to listen to our interview with Venice Williams, executive director of Alice's Garden Urban Farm, below.
Paying attention to weather patterns and looking for official climate updates from places like the Farmer's Almanac can be crucial to maintaining a garden in Milwaukee. The weather is unpredictable in our city so leave it to the experts to tell us what kind of conditions to expect and how to plan a garden around those patterns.

One easy detail that everyone can pay attention to is the possibility of frost. Milwaukee's last frost day is estimated to be around May 20th while the first frost day is expected around September 26th. These days are just rough estimates, but the state of Wisconsin normally has a little over 100 days between its last frost and first frost days, according to the gardening website Urban Farmer. Planting seeds between these dates is one strategy for more successful growth.

Photo via VGI's Facebook Page.

Every vegetable also has its own season where it tends to grow the best. For example, planting onions, peppers and tomatoes in the beginning of April indoors, then transferring them and planting them outside during July and August tends to yield a harvest around mid-September in Milwaukee's climate.

On the other hand, crops like spinach and kale have shorter growing cycles and can be harvested multiple times throughout the growing season. Planting spinach or kale indoors during early April and then transferring the seeds outdoors in late May will usually produce strong results by late June.

Here's a handy infographic with more vegetables and their growing seasons in Milwaukee.

Photo via

Another good way to sustain a healthy Milwaukee garden is to check in with local garden centers and attend their events or look for tips from their experts.

Alice's Garden is one organization that strives to provide models of regenerative farming as well as cultural development for the Milwaukee community.

Victory Garden Initiative is another organization with similar goals. Its mission is centered around building "communities that grow their own food, creating a socially-just, environmentally sustainable, nutritious food system for all."

And for those who need a little help getting their garden started, VGI also hosts the annual Victory Garden Blitz where over 300 volunteers install hundreds of raised bed gardens in backyards, front yards, schools, community centers, places of worship and according to their website, "just about anywhere you can imagine." Now in its 11th year, this year's Victory Garden Blitz will take place from May 11th-May 25th.