Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Season Extension

     By moving hardy plants into your bed as your summer crops start to wither, you can eat fresh vegetables for at least 9 months out of the year, no problem. The key is having a good plan.
     A well planned garden with regular successive plantings will allow you to have a steady harvest well into November. A poorly planned garden, will leave you with an irregular and sporadic harvest that are not very satisfying. You’ll find yourself sometimes taking home a lot but most of the times taking home nothing at all.
     Having an under-productive garden is one of the key points that keep gardeners from coming back the next season. Instead of deciding to work through the fall and continue to develop their growing skills, they decide to take what they can get from their tomatoes and call it quits. All we can say to those people is, “You don’t know what you’re missing!”
      A fall garden can be one of the most productive of the growing season. Cooler temperatures will allow plants like lettuce, leafy greens, root crops and the brassicas to thrive. Better yet, fall crops don’t need as much care. They get by on less water, have less weeds to deal with and, often times, most of the bugs that give us fits in the summer have died off.
     We can even add things like winter squash and pumpkins to our plots as move out our larger summer crops as they become unproductive and start to die out.
The secret for a good fall garden is in the timing. With our smaller leafy greens and lettuces, we can simply continue to succession plant like we’ve been doing all season.       But with our larger plants, (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, squash and pumpkins) we are going to need to start them as transplants in mid to late-July and move them into our beds as the space begins to open up. 
     The best thing about a fall garden? Impressing all your family members gathered around the Thanks giving table with your specialty greens harvested just that morning!

     Most hardy plants can tolerate temperatures just above freezing without a problem. But, sometimes even a light early frost can burn your plants. Here are some of simple solutions that any gardener can use to keep the cold out and help extend their season as long as possible.
Hoop Houses
     Hoop Houses, or low tunnels, are made up of plastic sheeting stretched over PVC pipe or a mesh cage and made to arch over your bed. A Hoop House allows you to keep your bed, well insulated, well managed and aerated long into the fall growing season without any worry of frost damage.
2-liter bottles
     Most of the time plants can tolerate cooler air. It’s the frost settling on their leaves that causes the most damage. The worsts frosts occur when mild day time temperatures plunge in the evenings causing the moisture in the air to freeze. That’s the kind of day when scraping your windshield is the worst. If we think one of those days might be coming and that some of our smaller plants are in danger, we can cut a plastic 2-liter bottle in half and place it over our plant in the evening. That should preserve the humidity within the bottle and protect it from overnight frost damage.
Frost Cloth/Floating Row Cover
     There is definitely nothing fancy about a frost cloth. Most frost cloths are cotton bed sheets that are laid over-top larger plants to protect them from overnight frost damage. The cotton collects the moisture in the air so that it doesn’t settle on your plants and freeze. Only use a frost cloth if your plants are mature enough to stand on their own. Even a light sheet will get heavy as it picks up moisture overnight and if your plants aren’t sturdy enough, it might cause them some damage.

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