Extending The Growing Season
If you are serious about growing your own vegetables as a hobby, a necessity, to save money, or to provide your own high quality organic produce, your main adversary is the growing season.
Lack of heat and sunlight will prevent seeds from germinating in the early spring and also prevent plants from maturing in the autumn.
There are several ways around this problem and here are a few techniques which I employ, to ensure fresh produce for as long as possible throughout the year.
When conditions are too cold to sow seeds outdoors the heated propagator is an essential tool. Used indoors, or in a suitable shed or outhouse with plenty of light, almost any seed can be germinated up to a month earlier than usual. Once large enough to handle, the seedlings can be transferred to pots in an unheated propagator or if you are lucky enough to own one, a glass house.
This both protects them from frosts and raises the temperature, tricking them into believing that it is later in the year than it really is.
Once the seedlings are mature enough to plant out, you can further protect them from the cold by using a cloche which works like a small glass house. These come in many shapes and sizes and can be easily made from old panes of glass, or clear plastic bottles with the bottoms removed and placed over each individual plant.
To extend the growing season into the autumn you will need a suitable glass house or polytunnel. The best of all worlds is the glass house as it can be heated and becomes one large propagator for use at the beginning and end of the season, the only disadvantage being the initial cost.
A very cost effective compromise is a polytunnel, which are widely used by commercial growers. These are structures made from plastic sheeting stretched over metal hoops like a tent and can be erected very easily, without the need for any specialist building skills.
They are very versatile and allow you to plant straight into the soil or create your own raised beds. I personally prefer a mixture of both, allowing space for larger plants to be grown in the soil and the ability to adjust the soil conditions in the raised beds for exotics and succulents.
Whatever your preferences, by using these simple techniques, you can fool mother nature into yielding a plentiful supply of fresh food for much longer than she normally allows.