This is part 5 and the final installment in a series on fall gardening. Part 1 can be read here; Part 2 can be read here; Part 3 can be read here; and Part 4 can be read here. If you have actually read this far, and read every post you are either my mother or my bosom friend.
While extending the season may be obvious for the expert gardener, when I was a newbie it was a completely new concept to me. I remember the year I tossed some lettuce seeds into the ground very late in the season, nursed them along through the first few weeks of autumn, covered them through the frost, and harvested them for our Valentine’s Day supper. I was stoked; and instantly hooked on growing things year ‘round.
Extending the harvest season need not be complicated. Depending on your area, and the crops you choose it can be as simple as keeping the frost off of the leaves allowing the gardener to continue harvesting right on through the winter.
To give you an idea of where I’m coming from: I live in zone 6b. Typically our last hard frost is sometime in November and the winter temperatures average around 36 degrees; with the occasional blizzard and/or ice storm causing them to drop as low as 10 degrees. Usually we can harvest our tender vegetables right up until frost and continue harvesting our semi-hardy vegetables through the winter provided they have been given some protection against the elements.
Following is a list and review of some of the season extenders we have used in our garden. It is not an exhaustive list, but it is what we have had experience with what has worked for us.
If you practice gardening year ’round I would love to hear from you and what techniques you have used to extend the season.
Solar Bells are some of my favorite little gardening gadgets. They are pretty in the garden, resembling the cloches of the Victorian period but are made of a heavy grade plastic as opposed to glass. A small vent on the top provides ventilation on warm days. A few of the drawbacks: they are expensive and can be difficult to find; the plastic over time tends to crack. If you don’t want to go to the expense of using solar bells a similar cloche can be fashioned by using a terra cotta pot. If frost, or a storm is expected, simply cover the plant. Don’t forget to remove it though when the weather warms up during the day.
Not as pretty as the solar bells but just as simple to use, a floating row cover is a lightweight sheet of fabric used to cover plants in the garden bed. If you are a seamstress you will find that the material resembles non-fusible interfacing. Thin and permeable, it will allow sunlight and moisture to come in while keeping snow and frost out.
A few of the drawbacks: In my opinion these aren’t as attractive as the cloches or solar bells. What can I say? I’m a garden snob and I like everything in my yard to be beautiful. They are also a bit on the messy side when it comes time to store them as they tend to gather dust and garden debris. They are however reasonably priced compared to other options. An alternative to floating row covers: use a sheet, or even a plastic bag to provide coverage during an expected frost or storm.
A cold frame is in my opinion the Cadillac of season extenders. The crops are planted in the frame and the lid is closed when necessary. It is important to remember to open the lid on sunny days otherwise you will cook your lettuces (ask me how I know this). The link shown as an example is one of the fancy schmancy sorts but last year husbie built me a significantly less expensive one (shown in the collage above) from a plywood box and a vintage window on hinges. Handles on the side allow it to be moved wherever needed.