Extending the Growing Season
It’s that time. Frost is here. I know it’s sad, but there is hope. You can extend the growing season to continue your harvest well into the winter.
Know Your Microclimate
Don’t trust the weather app on your phone. Those forecasts represent the climate over an area of hundreds of square miles. Your yard is a bit smaller, and it has its own unique climate.
In our region, the hilly terrain lends itself to microclimates that can vary widely. The best example in our area is the Ohio River. The river acts as a huge thermal mass that stores heat and keeps the river valley warmer than rural areas away from the river. Usually it will frost in valleys away from the river up to a month before areas along the river.
When used properly, row covers can extend your growing season by up to 30 days in the spring and fall. Typically made from polypropylene fabric and supported by flexible hoops, row covers protect plants from frost, wind, and even insects. The breathable nature of the fabric also prevents plants from overheating on warmer days.
Cold frames can extend the growing season even farther, and can allow some plants, like leaf lettuce, to be grown year-round. They can also be used to overwinter cold-sensitive, dormant plants. You can gain one or two hardiness zones this way. Be careful with cold frames because it is easy to cook plants on warm days. I recommend an automatic opener if your daily schedule doesn’t allow for opening the cold fame on warm days.
Bring the outdoors inside. I have a habit of collecting (and sometimes killing) houseplants. Houseplants are great, but many of them aren’t very tasty. I recommend a windowsill herb garden to kick winter meals up a notch.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in extending the growing season, go with a greenhouse. With a heating system and grow lights you can grow summer crops all year. However, the cost can be a bit of an obstacle for the home gardener. …. Unless you’re really into fresh tomatoes.
In closing, these are just a few of the possibilities for extending the growing season. Hot beds heated by composting manure, individual plant covers, and many more options are also available. Using these techniques, you don’t need to stop gardening when Jack Frost shows up to crash the party.