As the summer season draws to a close, many gardeners wish for a longer growing season. Never fear, the answers are here. There are several things that the everyday gardener can do to extend the growing season for our gardens. As the weather cools, it is time to select new seeds or slips to plant that can tolerate cooler temperatures. Just as in the spring we planted lettuce, radishes, beets and carrots, the same pattern can be repeated in the fall. In addition, you can add more cold tolerant vegetables that will produce leaves and roots to eat. These can be divided into temperature tolerances, for example:
Low temperature tolerant plants that can grow outside but are very sensitive to frost
- chickory, endive, escarole
- parsley, cilantro
- radishes, celery, bok choy
- Medium cold tolerant plants can grow outside but it helps to cover them as the temperature
- Chinese cabbage, sorrel
- collards, kale, spinach
- snow peas
- High cold tolerant may survive uncovered but can be protected by
- Brussels sprouts
The most important factor is knowing when to plant in the fall. As the weather gets cooler and day length decreases, plant growth slows down and will eventually come to a stop when the day length gets below 10 hours. In much of the US, land north of the 30º latitude has day length shorter than 10 hours between mid-November and mid-January. Check your location here. Your goal is to get plants to maturity before that day length happens. If you get them nearly mature, they will hold in the ground until you harvest them. Review the maturation date on the seed packets and plant those seeds within a time that will work. You can vary planting days to stretch your harvest. Pay attention as the night temperature begins to drop. Cover plants that are most delicate upon threats of frost. Find your average frost dates here.
There are several techniques to protect plants as the temperatures drop.
- Plant your garden in a south facing field. These beds will get more sun exposure and soil will retain heat longer each day.
- Protect from wind. Wind can cause more damage than cold. Planting near a protective wall, fence or hedge can raise the air temperature several degrees
- Plant in cold frames. These boxes are constructed with slanted walls and designed to have a top cover of plastic or glass. The top can be raised during the day and during watering but replaced at night when temperatures may drop to the frost level. There are many ways to build cold frames, but the idea is to create a warm place for plants to continue growing. See “The Cold Frame Handbook” to get plans and more details.
- Use row covers. Made from wire or 1/2” PVC electrical conduit pipe bent into the ground. A 10’ pipe can be bent to cover a 5-6’ bed. Use sand bags to secure at each hoop or insert a small piece of rebar in each end . Cover with spun fabric which is light weight, translucent, and breathable. This will provide wind protection and increase ground temperatures 5-10º F. Fabric that is made to 1 oz thickness allows 70% sunlight through. You can double this cover in real cold weather. Be sure to take it off during the warmest part of the day. Get precise construction directions here.
- Greenhouses are the final answer for those gardeners who feel the need for dirty fingers all year
long. The sky is the limit for greenhouse kits. They can range in size from table-top starter boxes to arboretums. They can be attached or free standing. A greenhouse should be large enough to walk into. The frame cover can be plastic sheets, vinyl panels or glass inserts. You will need a source of water, vents and perhaps a fan to make it most useful. Here is an extensive article on “Choosing the Best Greenhouse Kit” . In locations that have harsh winters, use row covers in the green house.
Billie Nicholson, editor
Additional articles in the September 2014 newsletter include:
Solar Moroccan Style Meatballs from our Solar Chef
Some of our friends have complained that their yards were so shady that they doubted they could grow anything in a garden. In answer to their questions, here are some plants that can be grown in shade. Don’t give up on your yard either. Vegetables grown for their leaves, stems or buds can tolerate shade better than those grown for their fruit or roots, although some of these can tolerate light shade. Their size or yield may be affected, but they will still taste good.
Leaf Lettuce - is one of the first plants up in our garden each year. It thrives in soil of most any type, but does best in moisture retentive soil with some compost available. Our garden beds get partial shade from a neighbor’s oak trees. This has been a benefit as the summer temperatures rise. Lettuce often wants to bolt, or go to bloom, as the temperatures rise. One gardener suggested planting lettuce north of a row of sunflowers that can provide partial shade making the lettuce bear longer. You don’t have to wait until the plants get really large to begin harvesting. Cut the leaves individually with scissors. The plants will continue to produce new leaves. Leaves will get bitter as the plants begin to bloom.
Green Onions - are cold hardy and can tolerate partial shade. We plant green onions starting in the fall in Pensacola and add a few more bulbs each month to assure we have green onions into summer. Good companions for onions are potatoes and lettuce. Cut the green tops for sauteing or garnishing. As they grow larger, the white bulbs can be harvested, too. Onions like a little organic fertilizer or compost. Harvest before the rainy season, they don’t like wet feet and will rot. Use them in potato dishes, with peas, and green beans or steam them in a foil packet on the grill. AllRecipes.com has a green onion pancake recipe.
Swiss Chard - likes sun or partial shade and is hardy to about 20ºF. We planted some in January, right before the temperature dropped to 18ºF. We covered them with shade cloth. They suffered some brown edged leaves, but are recovering now. A member of the beet family, they can have green, yellow or red purple stems. Chard can be eaten raw when young in a green salad, added to smoothies, or sauteed in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper. This green is best when served immediately after picking. It is loaded with nutrients, second only to spinach. In addition to anti-oxidants, it can also help stabilize blood sugar levels and benefit the pancreas.
Sugar Snap Peas – are one of our most favorite veggies. When the pods start developing, we start hovering with anticipation. The edible pods go a lot farther than the pea seeds. We eat them in green salads, if we can get them to the table, and as part of a sauteed vegetable mix. Sugar snap peas need to be trellised and last longer if grown in light shade. Keep the soil moist. We sprinkle with liquid fertilizer, once they start blooming. Peas contain vitamin C, K, niacin and anti-oxidants. They have the best food value when eaten immediately after harvesting.
Billie Nicholson, Editor 2014
Additional Articles in the April 2014 Issue:
- A reminder to review and rotate three types of items in your 72 hour emergency kit.
- A discussion of the importance of “duck and cover” in surviving a nuclear attack
- What are your plans to provide protein in your diet in an emergency situation? Here are some items to add to your supplies …
- Are members of your family hearing impaired that might not hear a smoke alarm?
- Our featured contributor this month is Tess Pennington of ReadyNutrition.com. She shares an article about Bio Mass Briquettes. Now you’ll have an environmentally friendly use for those shredded documents.
- Sun Ovens are a perfect partner for bio mass briquettes, here’s how …
- Speaking of gardening, do you use Epsom salts? Here’s why.
- We can all be prepared to take the initiative to save a life, should we be faced with a life or death situation. Here are three critical first aid procedures that can be accomplished with one dressing.
- Our Solar Chef has included a wonderful recipe for Solar Stuffed Shells. Give it a try, these are yummy.
Billie Nicholson, Editor