There are many ways to extend the growing season. As we reach the mid-point of September, it’s time to think about both how you want to extend the growing season and whether you want to or not.
Extending the Growing Season
There are a few ways that gardeners can extend the growing season. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does give you several choices to keep growing vegetables until the very coldest weather arrives.
- Plant cold-resistant varieties: Some vegetable seeds have been hybridized for specific characteristics like heat tolerance or cold tolerance. Look for varieties for your region that are known to be exceptionally cold-hardy.
- Mulch around your plants: A heavy layer of mulch such as pine straw (pine needles), garden straw, or other materials may offer some insulation.
- Use row covers: Row covers or tunnels are covers made from arched PVC pipes or other materials covered with plastic. You can see one in the picture above, although the floating row cover (the blue or green material over the bed) is probably an insect barrier rather than a cold weather barrier. These row tunnels or covers form mini greenhouses that retain heat longer over your garden area, although they do not provide complete protection from the cold.
- Cold frames: Cold frames are usually built onto the side of the house on a south-facing side. They are at ground level, or dug into the ground, and the frame is filled with glass. Because the lid of the frame is glass and set at an angle, it concentrates the sun’s rays and warms the interior. You can vent the lid to release heat on warm days and close it securely on cool days. You cannot grow everything under a cold frame, but you can grow many vegetables in them. In the springtime they help you get a head start on your planting when you start seeds in a cold frame. I have built them back in New York when I had limited gardening space to over winter my herb plants. A plan to build a cold frame is on the Purdue Cooperative Extension website.
- Hot beds: A hot bed is similar to a cold frame but uses another source of heat in addition to the sun’s rays to warm the interior of the cold frame. Some use heating mats especially designed for garden work or greenhouses. In olden days, deep beds of manure would be used, but I doubt you have a family cow or horse for that! The Purdue site above also lists instructions for building hot beds.
- Greenhouses: The ultimate luxury is a greenhouse. A greenhouse can be built against an existing structure, using one wall as a support, or it can be stand-alone. My dad built our greenhouse against the garage in our tiny urban yard in New York. Yes, I grew up with a greenhouse, which is probably why I love the moist, green-growing smell of a warm greenhouse in the winter. There are plans online for building your own greenhouse from old windows. I don’t know if those work. The one my dad built came in a kit, and he and a neighbor set it up. There are greenhouse kits available for small buildings or professional companies to build and install them for you, depending on your budget.
Kits for Cold Frames and Other Garden Season Extenders
I am a DIY (do-it-yourself) kind of person. Whenever I can build something myself, I prefer to do it that way. To extend the growing season, you can choose from among many kits, plans and projects. Below are a few kits I’ve found that I like. These are all available from Amazon.
Advantek Cold Frame Greenhouse
The Advantek Cold Frame Greenhouse is beautiful! It’s small, so you probably can’t grow a lot of vegetables, but you could easily use this to over-winter your favorite herbs or other tender annuals. I love the design. It’s functional and beautiful.
Gardman’s double-sided cold frame is also quite attractive and durable. This one would look wonderful on an apartment balcony and would enable you to grow more on a balcony or patio over the winter.
The Cedar Cold Frame above is made by Gardener’s Supply. If you’ve ever bought anything from them, you know it is of the highest quality. Cedar is naturally weather-resistant and durable. This should last a long time.
I call this greenhouse “the gardener’s wish list” because let’s face it – who doesn’t wish for a greenhouse? It’s beautiful and functional, and not terribly expensive compared to other models I’ve seen. The size is just about right for a home garden or serious hobby gardener, and the features, including vents and shelves, are perfect.
To extend the harvest, you have choices from the simple to the elaborate, the inexpensive to the expensive. If you love fresh vegetables, learning how to extend the growing season is a fun project for late fall.by