your Growing & Harvest Season into Fall and Winter print version
Wherever you garden, from the
northeast and high mountain elevations to the mild climate west and the
balmier southern states, the spring and summer growing season often seem
just too short. Use the following tips and techniques to reap the
biggest bounty from your garden and stretch extra days and weeks out of
your growing and harvesting season.
Make late-season plantings. Extend
your harvest into fall by planting second crops of cool season
vegetables, such as peas, greens, lettuce, carrots, Napa and regular
cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, Asian vegetables, radishes, spinach, and
turnips. Planting these veggies in late summer/early fall will yield
harvests long after your summer crops are finished. The longer the
frost-free season in your area, the greater the variety of fall crops
you'll be able to grow.
Take advantage of microclimates.
Some areas around your property may stay warmer or are sheltered from
the wind or frost. For example, gardens at the top of a slope often
avoid an early frost as cold air settles in lower areas. Use these
protected sites to grow vegetables later in the season.
from early frost. In fall,
freezing temperatures limit plant growth in northern latitudes and at
high elevations. Cover late season plantings with floating row covers,
mini-greenhouses made from clear plastic, or even old window sashes set
on hay bales. Vent the covers on warm days to prevent excessive heat
buildup. Modern floating row covers spread on top of your growing beds
can protect crops from early frost by maintaining a temperature about
4°F higher than the air temperature. You can also try a black plastic
mulch to retain extra heat in fall. Cover the edges of the plastic with
soil to anchor it in place.
Choose hardy crops. End the
gardening season with cold-hardy vegetables that can actually tolerate
frost, such as peas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, broccoli raab,
kale, beets, leeks, carrots, turnips, radicchio, escarole, scallions,
and spinach. Some vegetables also have particular varieties better
suited to grow in cold, short-day climates. Read seed packets and
catalog descriptions to find vegetables that are described as cold
Invest in a cold frame. A cold frame
can extend your garden season no matter what part of the country you
live in. You will find that you can have ample greens for good salads
throughout much of the winter in all but the coldest climates by using a
Cold frames are basically little houses where plants can have a head
start in spring and extra growing time in the fall and early winter. You
can purchase a cold frame or make your own. If you have an old storm
window and some planks or scrap lumber, you can put together an easy
cold frame. Nail the wood together to fit under the storm window.
Instead of cutting the sides on a slant, just build the frame as a box
and simply top it with the storm window. Skip the hinges. On hot days,
slide the window to the side to let heat out; on cold nights, put the
window squarely over the top of the frame and cover it with an old
blanket. In the summer when you don't need it, it's easy to store.
Cold frames are great for extending the growing season of all cool
season leafy crops. Keep a thermometer in the cold frame to help monitor
temperatures. Vent the frame when daytime temperatures go above 50
degrees F for cool season crops. Close it back up when temperatures drop
below 45 degrees F. Make growing in a cold frame even easier by
investing in a solar-powered vent opener that automatically opens and
closes the lid as temperatures dictate. This way you won't have to worry
about plants getting too hot or cold when you're not around.
Mulch root crops for an extended harvest in
cold winter areas. If your ground freezes hard, you'll need
to insulate the soil around your veggies' roots so they don't freeze.
Put a 10-12-inch layer of mulch over the rows, extending out 18 inches
on each side. This will keep the soil around the roots at an even 35- 40
degrees F -- the ideal storage temperature. Once the mulch is down, you
can go out anytime, move it aside and dig up some fresh roots. You can
even dig carrots, leeks, beets, and parsnips out from under two feet of
snow! Vegetables stored in the ground won't keep well once you dig them,
so plan to use within a few days.