There are many different ways to keep your season growing a little bit longer. For some of us that may be a necessity to save money and keep eating healthy organic food. For some of us it may mean we get to enjoy gardening for a little bit longer! For some of us it might mean both.
I’m sure most have us have seen those huge hoop houses or caterpillar tunnels on large farms that can extend the growing season for a month or so (This also really depends on what crops you have planted) Things like tomatoes and peppers aren’t going to do as well as something like Kale or Swiss chard or carrots. Carrots actually get a little sweeter with a kiss of lady frost.
I’m going to find as many different ways to extend your growing season. Anything from a few pots over your plants for a few extra weeks, a mini green house and even up rooting some and growing them indoors over winter! We had great success doing this with our Jalapeno plants but not as well with our bell pepper plants. We were able to hand pollinate out hot peppers and have fresh ones all year. Out indoor Jalapenos are going to be 2 years old next spring and they are still doing great.
I remember reading once that I might be able to grow a Japanese Maple in my zone 4 climate. I have not tried it yet. I’m too afraid to kill it. But the way I might be able to grow it is to block out wind from the North and West. I could do this by planting more trees and shrubs in those areas. It would allow the South Sun to shine on my plants, while slowing down the North and West winds making a micro climate, Keeping it warmer, especially in the winter if I planted coniferous trees or shrubs. This could work to an extend with your garden. It may not make a huge difference, but it can definitely benefit Your planting.
Mint and Rosemary
I experimented with this a bit this year and will definitely be doing more next year! This is succession planting. This year my 6 y.o. was in such a rush to plant. Sooner than I thought she should, but she tried anyway with some pretty good success. In her garden bed she had some carrots. I planted mine out about 3 weeks after she did and again about 3 weeks after that. Near the end of her carrot growth we both had some. But as her completely finished I was still pulling carrots from my first seeding. I still have some of my second seeding wile more of my first seeded carrots are gone. This allowed me to have carrots all season long and not really have any time without carrots.
I missed my shot at doing a second sowing of lettuce and spinach. I had seen my spinach going to seed (which we saved for the following year) But I ended up getting into a plant and had a photo sensitive rash on my face. But that would have been the time to sow my next batch of spinach and I’m sure I’d be picking some now instead of buying at the store. So If you need more information on Succession planting you should definitely look into it more. I will try to do a more in depth blog post on this next year.
This doesn’t have to mean those fancy and really expensive boxes you see popping up everywhere. This could honestly just be a mound of dirt 1 or 2 feet higher than the rest of the ground. This helps keep the soil loose and not compact making an easier growing medium as well as keeping all those little bacteria that break down soil and help nourish your plants living and active. This also allows the soil to be a bit closer to the sun, which means it warms faster in the spring and stay warmer longer in the season. It also makes it easier for family and friends to see were the plants are and not trample them thinking they are weeds. When I do my gardens I typically make rows about a foot higher for planting in and they are a few feet wide. In my front garden half of it is perennial flowers and herbs, but the other half is used for vegetables and fruits. This year I did not have a mound they did very well, but next year I will be raising the bed where the plants are grown up higher. It really makes a big difference.
HULA HOOPS AND BED SHEETS
Okay where I am going with this? Here me out. Hula hoops can be separated and opened. These can the be used to make cheap tunnel hoops. I first saw my mother in law do this actually, and it really did resemble the more expensive hoops rows. You press each side of the hoop on either side of your row. This might not work for some really tall plants, I know you can buy kid and adult sized hoops but this might be a judgment call on your part. Okay well what about those bed sheets? Well do you have any old sheets that you kept just in case, or maybe your going to a second hand store soon. Well you can drape them over your hoops to create a mini hoop house. Yes I will be trying this out more in depth this year. This will help save your plats from those sudden frost night. You know the ones I’m talking about the ones that come up out of nowhere last for a day or twp and then it’s warm again but you’ve lost most of your plants. You know the ones I’m talking about. You will need to find a way to attach your sheet to it doesn’t fly away. If you want to sew a few strings onto the bed-sheet for tying and keep this as your designated row covers AWESOME! If you aren’t great at sewing you might be able to use duct tape or twist ties of some sort to tie around the sheet and the hoop. Don’t forget to open these up during the day to allow air flow and sunlight. If there isn’t enough airflow your plant’s can mold and die, and they need that sun for photosynthesis.
GETTING A HEADSTART
Starting seeds indoors and Using those cold frames or hoop houses to plant earlier can give you a head start up to 2 or 3 months. This of course depends on your space to pot your plants up indoors, the amount of light and care you can give them and how willing your family is to watch your kitchen table become a mini plant garden. Some plants don’t transplant very well because they have a shallow root system. If you are new at gardening don’t start with shallow rooted plants. These can be things like corn, sunflowers, beets, peas and beans (they grow great direct seeded anyway), melons like watermelon or muskmelon, some squashes are hard to transplant as well. Lettuce can be hard to transplant as young lettuce is hard to separate and replant, its small and tedious. Some great plants to start indoors early are things like Tomatoes, Peppers, brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), green onions, yellow, white, red (storage) onions, fennel, celery. Some things that can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked are potatoes, kale, spinach, carrots, peas (usually closer to the last frost date), beets and radish are also really great early crops. Don’t forget some of those wild plants like young dandelion leaves or young plantain leaves. They can be great added to salads. If you are growing a small amount of corn you can start warming the soil by using a cold frame box (basically a box with the north side of the box slightly high and the south slightly lower, you then place a glass or clear plastic on top and make a mini greenhouse. You can also use hay bales as the walls, or bricks or get creative, but the north side should be higher) Once the soil has warmed you can plant things like corn, sunflowers, squash, melons, beets, etc. And keep using the cold frame to keep these plants warm. Corn is typically sow outdoors a few weeks after the last frost. It likes warm soil. This can give you a head start and more harvests! Don’t forget those hoop houses you made in the fall for early spring flash frosts! They get me every time and I’m rushing around trying to cover up my babies (plants)
Mulch is such a great thing to have in your garden, it helps to suppress weeds, it helps keep moisture in your ground, it helps keep worms around and other beneficial microorganisms and insects. As those worms break it down they add nutrients, It also helps keep the soil temperature from getting too hot, and slows it down from getting too cold too fast. This alone won’t keep a heavy frost at bay, but implementing multiple strategies if you can, can really make a big difference.
WHERE TO PLANT
The best place to plant is a place that gets south facing sun (you may need to put up a sun blocker if the sun starts burning some plants, or grow taller plants in front of heat sensitive plants). It’s also useful to have your crops sheltered from North and West winds. Planting close to your house also warms the soil quicker making a warmer sub climate in your yard. Play around with planting areas, don’t be afraid to use other plants to keep sensitive plants safe from too much sun or too much cold.
LETS TALK ABOUT DIY GREENHOUSES
We talked about a simple hoop house using hula hoops and bed sheets, you can also use pvc pipes and plastic sheeting and some sort of ties. You can get creative and use other things you might have laying around. Do you have a few sticks laying around if your in a pinch make an A-frame style trellis for them and lay your sheet over that. If you need more ideas take a look around pinterest for easy, DIY, garden hoop houses. Maybe there's something that would really suit your needs and the resources you have. Remember this doesn’t have to cost a lot or look perfect. We just want our growing season longer and these will mostly be used at night so who will see them anyway?
If you have plants in pots you will either need to bring them in to a sunny spot in your house or in your greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse are you thinking of building a potting shed? Maybe add some big south facing windows to your plans and it can be used early spring for potting and late fall for extending the season. Another large greenhouse Idea is using a car port as the frame and wrapping it with Thick plastic. These are great because they are fairly easy to take down and move. You can build it up around your plants in the fall and wrap it creating your plants their own personalized home.
For individual plant covers use recycled plastic bottles. You can use clear plastic to allow light and keep the lid off for airflow, if you only have dark containers that were used for kitchen sized mayonnaise (its a good idea to go to restaurants and ask them if they have any 20l containers) these are best used at night and taken off in the morning to keep frost out. You can also use those cute glass covers used on serving trays. I watched a documentary about the 1,800’s and they used similar things to keep there tender plants warm and extend the season, terracotta pots can also work for this purpose. These make cute little houses for each plants restful nights sleep.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY
What if it doesn’t work, or I do it wrong? Well at least you tried and you can try again next year, maybe something I suggested doesn’t work for you, but maybe it will give you an idea that might work for you if you change something up. One of the greatest things about gardening is it’s so different and personal for everyone. We all love different types or varieties of plants, our soils and climates are different, even if you live within 10km of someone the soils and climate can very. I hope this inspires you to try something new. If you can implement multiple ways to extend a crop you should try it. If you want to see the difference only cover half of your crop (same crop, same variety etc.) and keep the other half untouched or uncovered. You’ll be able to see how much longer the crop stayed alive or if it didn’t make a difference for you.