Our Guide To Season Extension

Posted by Hilary & Christopher Mueller on

3 Ways To Extend The Harvest In Your Veggie Garden

Nova Scotia GardeningThe harvest is rolling in fast and furious, nighttime temperatures are falling, and sweater weather is upon us! After a full, hot summer, the cooler mornings bring some relief, but the coming Equinox means the window is closing on the growing season for many of our favourite heat-loving crops. 

As we embrace the transition to another beautiful season and prepare to tuck ourselves in for slower days and longer nights, it’s time to think about tucking in some of our gardens as well.

Traditionally, where we live in Nova Scotia, folks plant their gardens the long weekend in May, harvest in September and call it a day. This year, the typical growing season was much shorter than average, with a late Spring frost and a frost in late summer for some.

Frost dates don’t have to forecast the end of planting or harvesting.

With a rise in food and fuel prices and a shift towards eating more local, seasonal, and organic food, more gardeners are interested in learning how to grow more of their own food.

It is totally possible, even in places with cold, harsh winters, to harvest food in all four seasons!

Imagine venturing out in your snow boots to harvest a fresh salad in January! Or getting ahead of Spring, harvesting carrots, beets, greens, etc. months before you could in an open garden!

There are a variety of methods that can be used to extend the season. Solutions range from simple and frugal to more of an investment in infrastructure, depending on your needs and resources.

We have a long, high wooden framed greenhouse with permanent beds and a mini-polytunnel inside of it for the coldest months. There are many options out there, but we are partial to solutions that are low cost, low waste, and sturdy enough to withstand our wild winter weather over and over again.

So, don’t put away your seed packets yet! There is still time to plant seeds for Fall and Winter (even in an open garden!) and learn a few simple ways to extend the harvest and enjoy fresh food more months of the year.

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What seeds to plant in your Fall Vegetable Garden

It takes just one gateway veggie to be lured into fall and winter gardening!

It might be tasting the sweet crispness of overwintered parsnips; “storing” leeks and carrots conveniently in the ground into the winter; or seeing spinach, radish, or arugula take off - as it never could in summer heat - as the temperatures dip.

Even if you aren’t going to add season extenders like a cold frame or mini hoop tunnel to your garden, there is still time to plant seeds! These seeds can be planted in an open garden in September and harvested in Fall:
   
      

Vates Blue Curled Kale (Our most Winter hardy kale).

Mache / Corn Salad (This stuff won't even germinate until its cold out!)

Radishes (Ready in as little as three weeks!)

Arugula (Thrives in Cool weather.)

Bulls Blood Beet Greens (Four weeks to harvest.) 

Broccoli Rapini (Crisp & dynamic flavour for Fall.) 

Swiss Chard (Again, only three weeks to harvest!)

- Vates Collards (Great for Winter coleslaws and green tacos!)

Seven Top Turnip Greens (Use 'em like spinach; salads, sandwiches...)

These robust crops can all withstand Fall and Winter temperatures. To keep it simple, we have bundled some of these together in our Fall & Winter Greens Collection.

You can even get away with some of the quicker lettuces - like Blushed Butter Oak, Crisp Mint, Merveille des Quatre Saisons, Rouge d'Hiver and Yugoslavian Red - though they will need protection from frost.

 (Psst! We are giving customers 50% off these Fall seeds until October 1st!)

If you’re going to plant later than the third week of September or if you want to keep your Fall garden producing longer, you will want to consider a season extender.

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Season Extender #1:

Mulch

The easiest way to protect your Fall root crops - like carrots, parsnips, celery root, etc. - is to mulch them heavily in late Fall. These veggies are actually even sweeter after a few frosts! 

Add a thick layer or straw, leaves, or seaweed* over your garden bed and cover with a sheet or blanket, secured in place with rocks.

Be sure to mark the location of the garden bed with a stick or pole so that you can find it under several feet of snow!

You should be able to harvest your root crops until the ground freezes solid and again in early Spring - and in milder climates, all winter long!

*If you are blessed with an accessible coastline, we highly recommend mulching with seaweed. Not only is seaweed a great insulator, but it adds valuable trace minerals to your soil as it rots. In our neck of the woods, the windy Autumn weather and tumultuous North Atlantic bring our friends and neighbours to the beach. For many of us, our weekly, low-tide seaweed runs continue until the seaweed freezes solid to the sand!

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Season Extender #2:

The Mini Hoop Tunnel or Poly-Tunnel

A mini hoop tunnel is a great way to transform a garden bed into a mini greenhouse. A hoop tunnel - or poly-tunnel - is essentially several hoops secured over a garden and covered with plastic or row cover.

There are several ways to go about making hoops. We use 1 inch metal conduit, which we bend with a hoop bender tool, to make sturdy, inexpensive hoops that last forever.

I am perpetually in awe of simple tools!

We mounted our hoop bender on the side of our shed and I felt like lady-Hercules bending those metal pipes! Years ago these hoop benders were really hard to come by, but as with most things nowadays, hoop benders are available on Amazon! Yay!  Check it out:If you don’t have access to a hoop bender, you can also use PVC pipes or even hula hoops, secured with rebar. You can also buy kits from garden centres and hardware stores.

You can purchase greenhouse plastic new or inquire at a local greenhouse. Sometimes they will pass along damaged sections or last year’s plastic, which can be perfect for home gardeners. If you care for greenhouse plastic and wash it seasonally, it will last for several years.

Mid-weight row cover can be very useful for Fall and Spring to protect plants from lighter frosts. You can leave your hoops in year round and just cover them with row cover or plastic as the temperatures change. To vent them on warmer days, you just left up a corner of the plastic.

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Season Extender #3:

The Cold Frame

A cold frame is another kind of mini greenhouse, but more permanent than a poly-tunnel. To vent them, you just prop open the lid on warmer days.

To build a cold frame box, you could use pine, but a rot resistant wood will last much longer. For the cover, you could use an old window or door or a hinged frame with either greenhouse plastic or lexan.   

DIY Cold Frame

Another less permanent, low-cost, and quick solution is a straw bale cold frame. This is simply four or more straw bales surrounding a garden bed with plastic or a window frame placed over it. In the Spring, you can simply take it apart and use the straw elsewhere in your garden.

Cold frames are wonderful for hardening off transplants in the Spring as well!

Niki Jabbour shares 5 tips to successful cold frame gardening over on Savvy Gardening.

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Spend more time in your happy place

If your garden is your happy place and you love having access to fresh, organic food, why not extend your gardening a bit later in the Fall and begin a bit earlier in the Spring?

Two wonderful resources on how to extend the harvest and begin to grow food year round are Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest and Niki Jabbour’s The Year Round Vegetable Gardener.

                         

Niki Jabbour is one of our garden gurus here in Nova Scotia. Eliot Coleman, along with his wife Barbara Damrosch, are pioneers of the extended season from the US. Their farm, aptly called Four Season Farm is in Maine. We were lucky enough to attend one of Barbara Damrosch’s lectures on four season gardening at MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair a few years ago. We left feeling incredibly inspired as well as a little star-struck!    

Larger scale growers and market gardeners might be interested in this wonderful article by Eliot Coleman, Farming The Shoulder Seasons

And, of course, we would love to support you, so please let us know if you have any questions or would like more information on season extension and your Winter veggie garden!

Do you use season extension methods in your home garden? We would love to see them! Share them to our Facebook Page or tag us on Instagram with the hashtag #incredibleseeds

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