When the days start to get shorter and the weather turns a little chilly, gardeners tend to start thinking ahead to next year’s garden. But wait – this season isn’t finished! Even though the weather is cooler (even with some frost), there is still time to grow vegetables into early winter.
There are a variety of ways to extend your growing season. First, choose plants that will tolerate the colder, end of season weather. This may mean that you plan a second planting late in the season of lettuce, carrots, cole crops like broccoli or cabbage, or spinach. Almost any variety that will enable you to harvest an early crop in the Spring can be replanted in the late Summer for the next round of cold weather.
Look for micro-climates around your yard
We all have them – little places that seem to thaw first, or those areas that always have shade and the snow never melts. Choose the warmest spots to plant your fall/winter gardens. Those areas will stay warmer long into fall and your veggies will thrive. Avoid the colder shady areas and plant them only in spring/summer.
Use succession planting techniques
Plant crops every couple of weeks so that you will have a longer growing season. Most plants are annuals and have a definite life cycle. Plant the amount you will use in the 2-week time period. Then plant again for another period. Once the original plants are harvested, you can re-plant with another crop of something else. For maximum soil benefits, rotate what you plant (don’t plant the same crop twice in a row). Each crop takes and replenishes different nutrients, and planting the same variety will leave your soil depleted.
Consider protection from the cold
This can be as simple as mulching around the plant base to hold in soil heat to using rigid protection like cold frames. You can also use one of the various garden fabrics to cover your rows and trap heat. If you don’t have acres of garden, an eco-friendly method is to make mini-greenhouses out of gallon milk jugs. Remove the bottoms, keep the caps. Place the jug over the plants and during the day, remove the caps to let excess heat escape. Replace the caps in the evening to keep the cold out.
Cold frames are a great way to extend the season. They can be as simple as plastic sheeting stretched over PVC pipe, or as elaborate as glass windows built onto a raised frame. The one advantage is that they allow plants to have protection from the cold at night and enjoy all the benefits of the sun’s heat during the day. You can keep most vegetables producing for several weeks past their normal end of season by using cold frames or hoop houses. This is also a great way to ripen your late-season tomatoes on the vine.
Keep root crops in the ground, even after the first few light freezes. Cold weather will actually improve the flavor of many root crops like carrots and turnips. Harvest before the ground freezes, though, or your soil may compact.
Move perennial herbs to a shed or enclosed porch. Rosemary, parsley, and many other biennial or perennial herbs will survive over winter on a covered porch. Water lightly, keep in partial sun, and they will be ready to plant back in your yard early spring.
Use artificial lights indoors. Many lettuces and spinach can be grown over the winter indoors. Use specially designed grow lights that mimic sunlight if you don’t have a sunny place to set them. Start seeds a week or two apart, and you can have fresh greens throughout the Winter months.
Protect your plants from the freezing weather, and you will be rewarded with tasty produce. By employing some of these techniques, you can extend your growing season well into the cold, snowy months of the year.