Try these simple, creative, and effective methods to extend your growing season for a longer harvest!
While it’s nice to have some time off to rest in the winter (especially if you have a big garden), it’s also disappointing to have to eat bland supermarket veggies for half the year. Using a few simple methods to extend your growing season can help you to enjoy more of your fresh garden produce for more of the year – without a lot of extra work.
If you want to extend your gardening season, you’ll need to start planning early. You’ll need to select the right plants, start them indoors or purchase them as transplants, and use season-extension techniques like row covers and cold frames. But with a little planning, you can enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers well into the fall and even the winter.
Starting Plants Early:
One key to extending your gardening season is to start your plants early. This can be done by starting seeds indoors or purchasing transplants from a nursery. If you start your own seeds, you’ll need to provide them with the right conditions, including plenty of light and warmth, in order to get them off to a good start.
Using Season-Extension Techniques:
Once you have your plants started, you can use season-extension techniques to help them thrive. Row covers can be used to protect plants from frost, while cold frames can extend the growing season by a few weeks or more. These techniques can be used to protect delicate plants or to give heat-loving plants a head start on the season.
Here are some simple and creative ideas for extending your growing season from some of the gardeners over at TheGrowNetwork.com:
- Terri from Northeast Ohio has a wire-enclosed raised bed that gives her about 150 square feet of room. When the weather turns chilly, she wraps the whole exterior in bubble wrap, and says it “works great well into December.”
- Sandra Forrester in Northeast New Mexico uses tires to protect her plants. “The tire is not used as a planter to hold the soil, but simply as a plant perimeter wall. It acts as a windbreak and creates a microclimate. Plus, we can easily cover the tires with gardening cloth for added warmth.” Sandra says that, for taller plants, she inserts chicken wire (or other wire fencing) around the inside perimeter of the tire to make a cage and covers that with cloth to create a makeshift cold frame. “We stack two tires for plants that need more support. Works like a charm all year round and we’ve found a use for the tires, which are a free resource.”
- John varies what he uses by time of year. To start earlier in the spring, he uses garden fabric, plus water-filled insulating plant protectors for his early tomatoes. To extend his season into the fall and winter, he uses garden fabric combined with plastic-covered low tunnels.
- “I do the research!” says Elaine Kettring. “What plants are cold hardy? Collards and many green leafy vegetables—especially the ones with crinkled leaves. The more crinkled, the more cold hardy.” She adds that she’s had good cold-weather success with drumhead cabbage, the salad green Mâche, and Blue Max for collards.
- Kathy Harbert in Missouri tosses lettuce seeds onto late-winter snow. She says she always gets a nice bed of early leaf lettuce that way.
- “Deep rich mulch helps my black clay soil warm up more quickly in the spring,” says Jeannie. “I can plant earlier and avoid the stress on the roots.”
- Kathy Harbert lays black plastic or reusable landscape cloth down in early spring to kill weeds and help warm the soil.
- “I grow in containers and cheat the weather, so my season is 12 months,” says Charles A. Pledge. “I find I cannot extend that. I have a 900-square-foot inside growing area and am adding 256 more square feet in late winter. Plus, I am adding about 800 square feet in the form of a roof-covered shed to protect from frost and may rough part of that in and add heat to get extra freeze time eliminated. “
- Debbie starts seeds indoors, then transplants them once the weather warms up enough. “I start seeds inside in repurposed food containers or whatever else I can find that will hold a little dirt. I find they need heat and light—lots of light to grow well. In spite of being by a double window, I shine several regular light bulbs in inexpensive, portable light fixtures on them. I know you are supposed to use grow lights, but I am just supplementing the sunlight for a couple of months to keep the plants from getting too leggy, and they seem to do okay.” Debbie then moves her plants outdoors into a PVC enclosure wrapped in clear plastic, and transplants them once the ground is warm enough.
- “We extend by building multiple-tiered beds,” says Marianne Cicala. “It naturally creates a variety of zones—a.k.a. morning sun with afternoon shade—which keeps the soil cooler and moister, thus allowing cole crops to grow longer into the summer season and fall crops to be planted earlier. The opposing portion of these beds provides hot afternoon sun, which allows summer crops to be planted earlier and last longer into the fall season.”
With a little planning and the use of some simple season-extension techniques, you can enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers well into the fall and even the winter. By starting your plants early and using row covers and cold frames – or some of the creative ideas above, you can extend your growing season and enjoy fresh produce all year long!