Wouldn’t it be great if your garden were like a 24/7 farmer’s market, providing you with fresh produce year-round? Sure, that would take a lot of work, but extended harvests are within every gardener’s grasp. With a little planning, you can harvest at least one or two crops right through the winter.
In this newsletter we’ll discuss ways to extend the growing season, starting with a review of fall planting and continuing with to how to cover and protect your plants in cold weather. Finally we’ll discuss measures that serious gardeners take to ensure year-long harvests, such as the use of cold frames and greenhouses.
Late Season Planting
The simplest way to extend the growing season is to plant a second round of vegetable plants in late summer or early fall. Fall is an easier time to plant than spring: the critters and weeds decrease, there’s less need to irrigate, and there are no heat waves to drive you indoors, panting.
There’s also less prep work involved; consult our Guide to Fall Vegetable Planting for the details, but basically what you need to do is clear out the old debris and amend the soil.
In choosing what to plant, most gardeners like a mix of plants with varying degrees of hardiness. Tender and very tender plants need to mature before the first frost or else they’ll be damaged. Semi-hardy plants can weather a frost or two, and hardy plants can weather repeated frosts.
To plant tender and very tender plants, you have to find out what date they need to be planted by in order to mature before the first frost. First find their growing times by looking at the product details section of the GHS web pages that describe them. Then find the approximate first frost date by looking at the Frost Chart at the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Count backwards from the first frost date to determine your deadline for getting those plants into the ground.
With semi-hardy vegetables, you don’t need to be concerned about the first frost date but you’ll want them to mature before repeated frosts occur. Again, compare the growing times with the first frost date, and make your selection based on what will be ready soon after that first frost.
When planting hardy veggies, you don’t need to worry about the cold weather at all. Just get them in the ground and mark on your calendar when they’ll be ready to harvest.
Help Them Make It Through the Night
When temperatures drop, most plants need to be covered. Coverings also help them grow faster in the colder weather. Some gardeners simply throw old bed sheets or towels over their less hardy plants when the nightly news predicts a cold snap. To improve on this method, support such materials with stakes or wire. Individual plants can be protected with buckets or gallon milk jugs with the bottoms cut out. Put them on in the afternoon while it’s still relatively warm and remove them in the morning after temperatures have risen again. Root crops can be covered with a thick layer of hay, straw, dry leaves, or pine needles.
We sell several products that have been engineered to provide optimal cold-weather protection. The most popular is the Wall O’ Water Plant Protector, which is like a plant-sized teepee whose insulating walls can be filled up with water. The Wall O’ Water absorbs heat during the day and releases it during the night, keeping your plants comfy on chilly nights. In fact, it will protect them down to 16°F!
For larger plants as well as sensitive shrubs, our Plant Protector Bags are great at keeping in the heat while still allowing for air circulation. Simply bag the plants when they are at risk, and remove as soon as the danger is past. The Fleece Frost Protection Bags offer even more of a defense against cold, maintaining your plants down to 20F. And for even larger plants, shrubs, and seedlings, use the 8’x 6’ Harvest Guard Plant Protection Bag with an adjustable closure for a custom fit.
If you have many plants to protect, Haxnicks Easy Tunnel Row Cover is the way to grow. It offers shelter to an entire row, forming a barrier that retains humidity and warmth, while protecting against frosts and harsh weather. Made of polyethylene supported by galvanized steel hoops, you’ll get years of use out of it, and the hoops can be stacked against each other for easy storage.
A more solid way to protect your plants is by building a cold frame, which is like a mini greenhouse. You can get instructions on how to build and use cold frames from the extensions of Cornell University, the University of Missouri and Ohio State University. There are also do-it-yourself videos available on YouTube.
If you want to save time and don’t want to search for materials, we sell a Cold Frame Mini-Greenhouse kit that is easily assembled and provides more than 5 sq. feet of growing space. Constructed of durable, UV-protected panels, the adjustable polycarbonate roof provides maximum light, adequate ventilation, UV protection, and easy access.
Its older brother is also on sale: the Cold Frame Double Mini-Greenhouse, which is the same design but twice the size. Measuring 41” x 41” x 21”, it provides ample space to grow and protect at least 10 sq. feet of veggies.
Serious gardeners will want to build or buy a greenhouse sooner or later. Actually, sooner is better, because you’ll get so much benefit from a greenhouse that whenever you get one, you’ll wish you had gotten it sooner!
Naturally, building a greenhouse is more involved than building a cold frame. If you’re up for a project of this size, instructions and plans are available from West Virginia University Extension as well as from North Carolina State University Extension.
If you’d rather get a greenhouse kit, be sure that the kit itself isn’t too difficult to assemble. As we said in 2009, the last time we had a greenhouse sale, “The gardening blogosphere resounds with little yelps of frustration from people whose jubilant smile turned to a grimace worthy of a gremlin as they realized—after bolting and unbolting, starting and stopping, moving forward and backtracking—that ‘the instructions are rubbish.’”
To spare our customers this kind of frustration, we sell only Snap & Grow Greenhouse kits made by Poly-Tex, a family-run business located in Castle Rock, MN. What we like about their greenhouses is that the parts snap together with SmartLock™ Connectors, a unique system that makes Snap & Grow kits the quickest and simplest on the market.
The other great benefit is that you’re not limited to the greenhouse you started with—you can expand it whenever you desire, thanks again to those SmartLock™ Connectors. What’s more, Poly-Tex produces a full range of accessories: automatic vent openers, shade kits, even plant hangers.
As with many of the best greenhouses, the greenhouse panels are made of polycarbonate, a polymer that is as clear as glass but offers 100% UV protection and is virtually unbreakable. The heavy-duty frame is molded out of corrosion-resistant aluminum, and the kit includes an innovative split-style door and window, both of which come pre-assembled, right down to the attached weather stripping.
If you’ve been thinking about getting a greenhouse, we know you’ll love the advantages of Snap & Grow, and we hope you’ll carefully consider each of the five models we offer, and perhaps give us a call at 1-888-907-4769 to discuss which one would best meet your needs. Just think: you can keep gardening all winter, and have as much space as you want to do it in!
Always More to Grow and Know
To learn more about extending the growing season, there is one book we particularly recommend: Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. This book has gotten rave reviews from beginning gardeners and veterans alike. It gathers together a wealth of information and presents it in a really fun and interesting way. The authors’ enthusiasm for gardening really shines through as well, and you might find your own gardening spark rekindled as you “hang out” with the authors by reading this refreshing and informative book.
That’s all for now. Happy Growing from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!