Plant Now For An Extended Harvest

With the summer gardening season marching right along, it’s easy to think about packing it in soon. Did you know that it’s actually no time to hang up your gardening hat? By planting certain seeds now, you have a chance to extend your garden harvest through the fall and right on into the winter. Join me for the amazingly simple way to harvest more food, even during the colder months!

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Timing Is Everything

As cooler fall weather creeps in, it’s time to sow seeds for cool weather crops. By planting now, you have a good chance of extending your harvest window. As spent plants get pulled out of the garden, plant fall and winter crops in their place. They will have time to become established before the really cold weather sets in, providing a potential harvest right through the winter. I live in US gardening zone 5b. Those of you in colder climates will want to plant earlier in the season, while gardeners in the lower states can plant even later. Around here in Maine, the middle of August through the beginning of September are excellent times for planting.

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Luscious fall and winter salads await!

Where to Plant

So, you don’t think you have room to plant more? How about using the area where you harvested your garlic? Do you have space where a crop failed? Amend the soil and get planting! How about a vacant cold frame? Do you have access to an unused greenhouse or hoop house? These are some of the options. Just make sure that whatever you pick, the space can be easily covered in a few months.

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A cold frame can be an excellent place to winter over veggies!

What to Plant

Within different types of cool season vegetables are varieties that do well in cool and even freezing temperatures. You may think that a carrot is a carrot but read some of the descriptions in your favorite seed catalogs. You may see the terms ‘cold-tolerant ‘ or ‘for overwintering’. Many varieties are conducive to cold weather. These cold-tolerant veggies don’t even mind the freeze and thaw of winter conditions. Check with your local greenhouse to see what they have for leftover seeds.

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Turnip greens love fall weather.

We are not talking about beans, corn and tomatoes here. Think about the first things that you are able to plant out in spring. Carrots, beets, kale, brassicas, radishes, spinach and all sorts of salad greens. Some garden centers even sell fresh fall seedlings these days. If you have time you could start your own. Since that first winter that I successfully protected salad greens right through to the spring, I’ve been working on improving my growing situation.

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Radish harvest.
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Lovely salad greens thrive through the winter.

Extra Protection 

I will say that some years are better than others. Sometimes my setup isn’t quite right. Some years I lose the battle with mice. But, I will say that for the most part wintering over greens is pretty simple and once you get the hang of it becomes second nature. If you are an avid gardener, you will relish the challenge. If you are a beginner, you will find that trying season extension doesn’t have to be hard.

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Winter garden harvest.

By giving the plants an outer layer of protection and then when temps go down providing a second layer, you can have season extension success. The first layer can be as elaborate as a greenhouse or as simple as a quick hoop constructed of re-bar or wood. Just make sure it can take a snow load. 6 mil. plastic or real greenhouse plastic will do the trick. The second layer consists of a product called ‘floating row cover’. This is a breathable, self-venting, spun poly fabric that can be found at most garden centers. When this fabric is suspended above the plants, it creates a snug environment for overwintering. In the photo below, I actually used hula hoop halves to suspend the row cover. Greens can be harvested in spring and will continue producing until hot weather hits.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

For in depth information about this subject look for the books The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman and The Year Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. Both are excellent guides to extending the garden harvest. Over the past few years, Everlongardener (also known as The Salad Green Queen) has had extensive posts such as How To Harvest Salad All Winter, Project Greenhouse and 4 Season Gardening, What to Expect. Subscribe and stay tuned throughout the next few months for more season extension tips.

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Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.

If you missed my post last week it was because I took a break. A few days spent by a roaring stream was just what our family needed. A place to leave all troubles behind, reflect and rest. I was pleased that upon my return I hadn’t missed the ‘Casa blanca’ lilies. A pure white oriental lily with a strong fragrance that drifts onto the porch in the morning and wafts through windows on warm summer nights. The beans needed picking and things needed watering but everything did pretty well. Thanks for checking out my post on season extension this week. I think a few of you will want to try your hand at 4-season growing this year! I’ve included a few garden photos and a picture of our adorable new gardening companion, Beau! Have a great week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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My new ‘helper’! Photo cred. D. Gifford.
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The last of the day lilies.
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Cutie!
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‘Casa blanca’ lily.

Discovering Wild Blueberries

Summer in Maine would not be complete without wild blueberries! Many of us grew up reading Robert McCloskey’s book Blueberries for Sal. We can still hear our mothers reading the words, “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.” That’s supposed to be the sound of Sal’s mother dropping plump, ripe blueberries into her metal pail. That’s right before they run into mama bear and baby bear! After picking enough berries, they head back to the house to can the sweet berries for the upcoming winter. I’m sure if you’re a fan of the book, eating wild Maine blueberries triggers these fond memories from the story!

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Much of coastal Maine is covered with large shafts of blueberry land. Many people of a certain age in Maine have raked blueberries for a summer job. Whether it was supplementing the family income, for buying badly needed school clothes or getting just enough money to go to the fair, the blueberry industry has supported countless Maine families. Starting in late July, the blueberry season stretches through the month of August. Over 44,000 acres of blueberry land are farmed annually in Maine contributing millions of dollars to the local economy.

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Wild blueberries against the ledge rock.

Although they are referred to as wild, if left unattended, these precious plants would probably be engulfed by small trees only to turn into a forest. Care must be taken to ensure a decent harvest. Burning or mowing the blueberry fields is a great way to keep unwanted weeds from growing in. Berries have a two year cycle. Pruned fields will not produce until the following year. Some farms have half of their land in production each year. In our area, spraying blueberries for blueberry maggots is still common but more farms have been going organic in recent years. Hand raking has also becoming rare. Blueberry raking used to be a great job for teens but a lot of growers have gone to mechanical raking for efficiency. Many a young person has stood by a blueberry winnowing machine for hours picking out unacceptable berries, leaves and stems.

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Maine wild blueberries!

Wild blueberries have long been a Maine food source but they were not picked commercially until the 1840’s. The low-bush variety (vaccinium augustifolium) grows well in Maine’s naturally acidic soil. They can survive harsh winter conditions and offer year round beauty. From their white blossoms in late spring to their flaming red foliage in fall, blueberry fields are a feast for the eyes as well. High-bush berries also grow throughout Maine and abroad but prefer marshy, wet areas. The fruit can be slightly bigger and the flavor is comparable.

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Sweet, delicious berries.

Benefits From Blueberries 

It’s no secret that blueberries are are excellent for your health. They often show up in the category of ‘super food’ and are rich in antioxidants. According to Wild Blueberries, wild berries have 2x the antioxidant power of ordinary cultivated berries. So, pour on the blueberries when you get the chance!

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Low-bush berries.

Uses for Blueberries 

It probably goes without saying that there are endless uses for blueberries and they are only limited to the imagination. Blueberries can be sprinkled on pancakes, mixed into waffles or added to buttery muffins. Blueberry pies, crisps and rich coffee cakes are a huge hit around here. Dried blueberries can be put into granola or trail mix. Frozen blueberries give summer flavor to oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt during the winter. Blueberries can even be used in savory applications such as sauces and dressings. Personally, I think eating them on cereal or by the handful is my favorite. The flavor of wild blueberries far surpasses that of commercial berries in most Mainer’s opinions!

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Blueberry muffins!

If you have wild blueberries in your area, try to get some while you can! You’ll see how sweet they really are. The berries are very easy to freeze. Just place them in freezer bags, seal and lay flat in your freezer. Some prefer to freeze them on cookie sheets in a single layer to prevent clumping. If you are like Sal’s mother from the story, you might feel like canning them or making a few batches of jam. Whichever way you use them, take advantage of the season while it lasts! Many farms are taking orders for 10 lbs. or more. Some will even ship to your door. It’s hard to find a place to pick these days because most of the blueberry land is for commercial use. If you haven’t experienced wild blueberries yet, get out and get some while they last.

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Fresh blueberries!

All of the gardens here have been suffering from the lack of rain. At the same time, the beans are wanting to be picked every other day and the cherry tomatoes are beginning to get their color. I hope that you get to experience wild blueberries in your area. They really are a highlight of the summer season here. So if you will excuse me, I think I need to go make some pie now!

Hilary|Everlongardener