Who says your garden, and your fresh local food, have to be restricted to the warm weather months? With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can grow food well into the fall and perhaps even into the cold days of winter.
Understand that not all crops are suited to cold-weather gardening. Unless you have a Martha Stewart-style greenhouse (I covet!), you’re probably not going to grow tomatoes in the winter. But, other crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, lettuce, spinach, and peas prefer cool weather and can even withstand light frosts with ease.
To extend your gardening season, protect your plants from extreme weather. Fabric covers suspended over your plants during a frost will keep them alive even in temperatures that dip well below freezing. In the Tomato Envy garden, my husband Rob and I outfitted each of the 8 raised beds with hardware to make hoop houses when the weather is threatening.
All you need to make a hoop house over a raised bed is some two-hole straps that attach to the sides of your raised beds, long pieces of flexible PVC conduit, large binder clips and cloth covers. The cloth covers are available from any garden center, but you can also use old sheets.
We used four sets of straps along both sides of the 3×6-foot rectangular beds and three sets along the sides of the 4×4 square beds. Once you’ve secured the metal straps evenly along the sides of the bed, insert one end of the flexible conduit into the strap, bend it gently to arch over the bed and insert the other end into the strap across the bed. You can also push the end of the conduit into the soil a bit for extra security.
In fair weather, you can simply stow away the conduit. When frost threatens, install your hoops, drape the covers over the hoops making sure they reach all the way to the ground and fasten the cover to the hoops using large binder clips. I also use landscape staples to fasten the fabric around the bottom perimeter of the beds in case of gusty winds. A hoop house will protect plants from frost, but they cannot withstand a load of heavy snow or ice.
While hoop houses will help you grow well into the fall, if you really want to pull out the big guns, try a cold frame. A cold frame is like a mini-greenhouse that can be set directly on the ground or placed on top of a raised bed. In some cases, it will allow you to grow hearty greens all winter. I purchased a free-standing elevated cedar bed fitted with a nicely constructed cold frame that sits on top. While this cold frame was a significant investment, it’s way better than anything we could have built ourselves – even if we had six months to do it!
A cold frame has glass or plexi-windows that collect sunlight during the day and trap that heat overnight to protect your plants. Whether you build or buy a cold frame, be sure it includes a way to vent the windows on warm, sunny days so you don’t cook your plants. Ideal plants for a cold frame include spinach, lettuce, chard, carrots, arugula, and mache – a very cold hardy gourmet green.
With a little planning and the right tools to extend your gardening season, a fresh salad in winter is as easy as bundling up and shopping your own backyard garden.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Growing Food and Independence - Tomato Envy : Tomato Envy | September 26, 2014
- Tomato Envy? Not Me! - Tomato Envy : Tomato Envy | October 3, 2014