Maximizing Your Harvest: The Art of Season Extension in Gardening
Gardening enthusiasts often face the challenge of working within the confines of a limited growing season. However, with the right strategies and tools, it's possible to extend this window and enjoy fresh produce all year long. Elliot Coleman is the famous season-extension advocate, and his books include:
"The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses"
In this book, Coleman shares his insights and techniques for extending the harvest season through the use of unheated greenhouses and other innovative methods. He details his methods that allow for year-round vegetable production even in colder climates.
"Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long"
Coleman explores the concept of a four-season harvest, providing practical guidance on how to grow organic vegetables throughout the year. He discusses various methods such as cold frames, high tunnels, and crop selection to maximize harvests in different seasons.
There are some basic considerations to take into account when you’re working on expanding your production to maximize harvests in all seasons. They are as follows:
1. Choosing the Right Crops
Start by selecting varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs that are well-suited for extended growth periods. Certain crops, like kale, spinach, and carrots, can withstand cooler temperatures and are ideal for fall and winter harvests.
2. Cold Frames and Row Covers
Cold frames and row covers are effective tools for protecting plants from harsh weather conditions. These structures create a microclimate that shields crops from frost and chilling winds, allowing for continued growth even in colder temperatures. Note that NRCS has a program that helps pay for the cost of putting up low tunnels.
Applying mulch around plants helps regulate soil temperature, prevents moisture loss, and protects roots from extreme cold. Organic materials like straw, leaves, or compost act as insulating layers, supporting the health and growth of plants during colder months. I just love mulch.
4. Greenhouses and High Tunnels
For serious gardeners, investing in a greenhouse or high tunnel can significantly extend the growing season. These structures provide controlled environments where you can cultivate a wider range of crops and protect them from the elements.
5. Using Heat Sources
In particularly frigid climates, incorporating heat sources like heating cables, thermal mass, or even small heaters inside covered structures can maintain warmer temperatures, allowing plants to thrive during colder spells. We actually are currently using a pellet stove in one of our greenhouses. It’s a bit labor intensive, but it does the trick and keeps the house above freezing and keeps our plants alive. When you don’t have access to an electric or fuel line, pellets or wood are always an option. Just be careful with the installation.
6. Continuous or Succession Planting
It may seem obvious, but to have a continuous harvest, you’ll need to be continually sowing seeds and planting starts. It’s call succession planting. Try it out.
7. Cold-Hardy Varieties
Another no-brainer, choose cold-hardy vegetable and herb varieties specifically bred to withstand chilly conditions. We are currently selecting our most cold-hardy lettuce by planting a ton of it in the fall and collecting the seed of whatever lettuce survives the winter. The results have been amazing so far, and we will soon be offering this lettuce on our site. Plants that have undergone such a selection process are no doubt more resilient and better equipped to thrive in colder climates.
8. Season Extension Tools
Explore various tools designed for season extension, such as frost blankets, cloches, and floating row covers. These aids protect plants while allowing sunlight and moisture to permeate, fostering healthy growth. We like to use a material we call remay (sp?) or floating row cover, drape it over simple wire hoops and hold it down with sand bags. We purchase this type of stuff from an awesome supplier called Country Seed & Supply. Just call them at +18146624033, leave a message and a kind gentleman named Corey will get right back to you and help you get your order placed.
Season extension techniques are invaluable for gardeners looking to maximize their harvests and enjoy fresh produce well beyond the typical growing season. By employing a combination of strategies, tools, and careful planning, you can extend your gardening timeline, ensuring a plentiful and prolonged yield. Extending your growing season is so easy, especially with the Natural Resource Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Our local NRCS office has helped us put up a 30x90 foot high tunnel on our farm, install a well for watering our plants and more. If you’re a small grower and not yet in touch with your local office, click here to learn more. Hoping your upcoming growing season is longer and more productive than ever!