Extending the Season

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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.

I highly recommend reading the following. The author has an excellent chapter on season extending:

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Extending the Season — 19 Comments

  1. Bosom friend FTW!
    I’ve never really done winter gardening. I’m in zone 4a, so I’m not really sure what it would take to keep things going through the winter. I think I cold frame might be the only possibility. Also: by the end of summer I’m kind of over veggie gardening (not as exciting as spring for some reason), and I can’t get as excited about semi-hardy crops. But some day maybe I’ll have my act together enough to give it a try! It sounds satisfying.

    • ;)

      I hear ya. I’ve had a hard time getting into the rhythm of going right from the heavy harvest in July to thinking about starting the cool weather stuff again. I find that I’m usually running a bit behind for that reason. It sounds though like you have a pretty friendly summer season though. Ours for the past three years has been wicked hot and hasn’t been productive. We almost have to depend on the fall if we want to have anything to put up.

      • Yes! We have good summers. I’m so surprised at how well my garden is doing, I thought it wouldn’t get enough sun. The tomatoes are taller than me with lots of fruit, and the green beans are going gangbusters.

  2. That cold frame looks fantastic!! We have a pretty long growing season here, but we definitely have frost in the winter mornings. I LOVE the look of the solar bells. So pretty. :-)

  3. I like your cloches and cold frame. I use pvc pipes to make hoops over the beds, then cover them with clear plastic and rocks to hold the edges down. It is definitely not pretty, but it keeps a lot of my winter salad greens alive all winter, so it works for us.

    • Athena we just built some raised beds and are planning to use the hoops and plastic this winter. It will be the first time we’ve tried that. I’m glad to hear that it has worked for you.

  4. i was so stoked to fall garden this year but unfortunately i’m moving across the country to a place with very little gardening space. oh yeah, and they have winter there. i currently live on vancouver island and winter is rain and very rarely less than 0 degrees C. that being said, i’m looking forward to getting a new CSA program and treasure hunting at other markets.

    p.s. it’s The Wednesday Fresh Foods Blog Hop today and i adore your post. it’s exactly what we’re looking for! you’re welcome to stop by and link up if you like! we’d love to have you!

    • We’re in transition too so we didn’t have much of a summer garden and are therefore going to be pretty dependent on what we can grow this fall. I’m a little late getting things in since it has been so hot. Thanks for the invite to your Blog Hop! I will definitely drop by.

  5. My first attempt at fall/winter gardening will be this year. I live in an area that has little soil and a LOT of shale. So, I have been straw bale gardening this summer. I am preparing bales for planting fall crops now. I plan to bulld a straw bale cold frame next week. If anyone has experience in this type of gardening, I’d appreciate any advice. Thank you so much for all of the great info you provided for “Extending The Season”. I know you have saved me from a lot of trial and error.

  6. great ideas. I always want to try this and never do. I have some old windows to make cold frames. I should get to it!
    I’ve started a Repurposed Ideas Weekly Blog Hop. This would be a great post. Please consider joining me!

    • My husband made this one and it was relatively easy. We’ve enjoyed using it. I will definitely take a look at your blog hop. Thanks for the invite. :)

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