Gardening | How to extend your growing season well beyond the spring and summer seasons
You can still have a bounty of fresh vegetables well beyond just having a summer garden.
Many people just consider a garden as being a spring and early summer venture only to enjoy the fruits of their time and labor for about 90 days of the harvest. After the heat of summer comes they give up the garden and allow the heat into July and August to take over and fill the space with weeds. Then the following spring they start all over again after spending considerable time removing and dealing with an overgrown weed patch.
The fact is and depending on your growing zone a garden can continue to produce fresh vegetables well into the fall and early spring months even with light frost’s occurring. If you are fortunate to live in one of the Southern coastal growing zones such as ours in Texas you can garden year round, meaning you can grow a spring, summer, fall and winter garden.
There is so many different cool weather corps that thrives in the fall and early spring months to provide a family with fresh chemical free produce. Considering the escalating cost of produce at the local grocery stores this can be a major savings for a family trying to live frugal on a tight budget.
The economist might say inflation is low, but my experience causes sticker shock every time I walk through the produce section. Wow, somehow I missed the jump of when did cabbage go from less than a dollar each to now over a dollar per lb? You know a large head of cabbage can weigh up quickly.
The same has occurred with cauliflower and just about all the other vegetables, tomatoes are just about equal to buying a steak. Worst of all this is not even organic, those prices are almost even double. So why not grow these in your fall and winter garden along with radishes, snap peas, broccoli, spinach, turnips, brussel sprouts, lettuce greens and more?
If you are able to provide cover from an occasional light frost, you can even add green beans, squash, okra and fall tomatoes. We enjoy our winter garden, and when the weather is forecasted to hit 36 degree lows in Houston we know living out in the country that we will likely have a frost and need to cover our plants that won’t tolerate the freeze. The cool weather corps now in our winter garden have already encountered at least 10 evenings of a light frost and temps in the low 30s without any cover at all.
We can now start planting the early spring cool weather vegetables and then add the others already started in the greenhouse when the last chance of frost has past.
If you have row crops such as green beans these can be covered with small poly tunnels made from hoops bent from wire or PVC pipe that has been heated with a hot blow gun. Then cover with frost fabric or plastic. (Plastic should not touch the vegetables as the frost will freeze directly through it) You can purchase rolls of frost fabric from a greenhouse supply company.
Cottage Craft Works also carries a unique new cover, it is The Frost Guard plant protector. It is a white translucent cover that allows sunlight in but it won’t burn the plants. It has an adjustable vent on top help control temperature and humidity. It helps hold the moister in and is perfect for starting plants earlier in even Northern Zones when frost is still occurring. It works best over small new transplants, as the size will not cover large mature plants. Depending on how low your evening temps are falling, you can get several weeks to possibly a month head start on the spring planting season with these types of covers.
If you live in a colder weather zone you can still build cold frames with covers to lift up for warmer days and close for frosty evenings. These can be built to move around a garden that is tilled or installed more permanently in raised or no till garden beds. Just a small 60 watt light bulb can keep the inside temp above freezing if your temps drop down in to the 20s. Better stock up on these light bulbs as they are no longer are going to be widely manufactured and the new energy efficient bulb just doesn’t throw off the heat.
Using the garden space for an extended season also keeps the weeds from growing and taking over. Once weeds are allowed to mature and go to seed your garden labor becomes much more intense throughout the growing season just to keep new weeds from growing. Many get discourage with the aspects of gardening simply because of the time and labor it takes for weed control as they don’t understand the importance of weed prevention.
Keeping the garden clear of dead vines and rotting vegetables also prevents the spread of plant diseases, in other words just keeping the garden clean and active for as many months of the year you can the better it will produce and maintain a healthy balance. Adding continuous compost also keeps the nutrients needed while keeping new the weeds from sprouting. Just be sure you are not hauling in compost with hay and straw that contain new seeds to worry about.
Probably the best aspect of a fall and winter garden, there are very few pest and diseases to worry about. Yea, actually our fall and winter gardens outperform our summer gardens here in Texas simply because we don’t have to deal with the stink bugs, birds and other pest that love our garden as much as we do.
It’s time for me to run back out and check my greenhouse and spring plantings. Hope you enjoy growing your garden well past the summer season as we do ours.