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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!