Tag Archives: season extension

Caring for Winter Greens

January in the garden can be a slow month depending on your gardening zone. This time of year, unless your gardening in the far south, greens, garlic, and perennials are probably the only things you’ve got in the garden. While soon it will be time to start planting seeds for spring right now you can focus on keeping any hardy plants you’ve got alive and well.

Fall planted hardy greens can provide a bounty over the winter months. However because of limited daylight and cold temperatures caring for them will be a little different than caring for your garden during the summer.

Water

For the most part, you won’t need to water during the winter months. Even if your plants are under cover where they don’t get any precipitation they’re unlikely to need watering because they aren’t growing quickly.

However, during periods of active growth like the fall and spring you may still need to water them even if the temperatures are relatively cool. As it gets closer to spring be sure to monitor their needs.

Protection

For most areas, if you still have greens growing in January you probably have grown them in a protected environment whether it’s a cold frame or greenhouse. As temperatures continue to reach winter lows you may still need to offer them further protection to keep your garden growing strong.

For cold hardy greens like kale, lettuce, arugula, collards, spinach, and cress a simple layer of frost cloth can keep them growing strong even in an unheated greenhouse when temperatures dip into the low teens and even single digits.

Frost cloth can be placed on hoops or laid directly but gently onto your greens. Remember to remove the cloth as the temperature warms up in the day though! If you have to thin cloth like burlap or an old sheet will also work. Just make sure it’s not so heavy that it will crush your plants.

Harvesting

You can harvest your greens the way you normally would during the spring or summer months. Do note that because of the shorter days and colder temperatures greens will take much longer to come back after harvest but this doesn’t mean they’ve died or something is wrong. Once things warm up and the days get longer in the spring they’ll speed up quickly.

Venting

Don’t forget that sunny days can quickly heat up a cold frame or even greenhouse. Thermometers that come with an outdoor sensor and indoor display can help you monitor the temperature of your garden space without having to go out and check. Venting your structure when it heats up is very important to prevent scorching your plants.

Additional Resources

If you’d like more tips for winter growing, check out some of our other posts below.

Fresh Greens to Harvest from Fall through Winter

Easy Season Extension For Fall

Easy, Affordable Hoop House Options

Fresh Food in Winter

Tips for Growing Awesome Fall Greens

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Easy, Affordable Hoop House Options

Garage Frame Hoop House

Hoop houses or high tunnels are excellent season extenders. They can keep you family in fresh greens all year round or give you the earliest tomatoes in the neighborhood. Unfortunately they can be pricey. Here’s a few simple options for creating affordable hoop houses.

Garage Frame High Tunnel

One of the easiest options is to use an old garage or storage building frame. If you see one for cheap or free on craigslist or your local classifieds, scoop it up! These are perfect for making small high tunnels with the little effort it takes to frame in the ends and add a door and plastic. The example pictured above was picked up for free, has a free used door, scrap lumber was used to frame in the ends, and the plastic was clamped to the piping using small sections of PVC pipe with slits cut in them.

Conduit High Tunnel

If you like the idea of the storage building hoop house but can’t find a used one you might consider making your own from conduit. Conduit is relatively inexpensive and can be bent at home using a homemade frame.

Cattle Panel High Tunnel

Another option is to use cattle or hog panels as the main frame. The panels are bent over and staked at each end. Like the other hoops you’ll still want to frame up the end and add a door. These are also a nice option because they’re easy to dismantle and move even if you’re a one person garden operation.

Low Tunnels

If you find none of these options work for you or you just don’t need a high tunnel, try a low tunnel! For low tunnels all you need is some hoops to bend over a garden bed and plastic. The hoops can be made from conduit, PVC, or even flexible wood from your property (just make sure to shave/sand off any spots that might tear the plastic). If you have a traditional garden the hoops can just be shoved into the ground on either side of the bed. Alternatively for raised beds you can add holders like slightly larger sections of PVC to the side of the bed to slide the hoops in and out of for easy set up and removal. Those holders could also be be driven into the ground for the same purpose. These low tunnel hoops also double as a way to cover crops with shade cloth to keep them cool or protect them from insects.

Purchasing Plastic

There’s a few considerations to keep in mind whatever frame you choose. First even though the rest of your hoop may be cheap or free you do want to invest in good quality plastic. Cheap plastic will only cost you more in the long run when it needs frequent replacing. To find good plastic look for plastic that has a good UV rating (won’t deteriorate in the sun) and is fairly thick. If you live in a northern climate you’ll need to keep in mind that your plastic will have to stand up under snow loads. Most likely you’ll find good quality plastic must be sourced from an actual green house supplier. 

You’ll also want to make sure you purchase enough plastic for your project. Note that even though some large hoop houses have solid ends, your hoop house will be more effective with plastic or another type of clear material on the ends. So don’t forget to take the ends into consideration when purchasing plastic. You should also be sure to order a bit extra to leave room for error.

Ventilation

Another feature you’ll want to consider on any type of greenhouse is a way to vent it. High and low tunnels will get hotter faster than you’d think. Being able to allow cool air in as needed is vital to prevent damage to plants. Good air circulation is also important to preventing fungus and disease. For high tunnels you may want to add doors and windows on each end or fashion sides that roll or fold up. On smaller hoop houses you can just make the lower part of the plastic sides easily detachable and fold it up and inward (if you fold it outward it will fill with rainwater). Obviously for low tunnels venting them is very easy because you can simply fold back the plastic but it is even more important.

Choosing a Site

Lastly it’s you’ll need to decided where you want to place your hoop house. It can be especially handy to have them close to the house in springtime when you’ll be spending a lot of time checking on and caring for seedlings. You’ll also want to ensure that one of the longer sides is facing south allowing the high tunnel as much sun as possible especially in the winter months.

Hoop houses do not have to be just for big farms! With a little effort you can create an affordable backyard hoop house even on a tiny property. Growing food in a high tunnel can help increase your year round self sufficiency and help you grow varieties that really like it hot and humid. Up your gardening game and start building!

10 Varieties You Can Plant This July For an Awesome Fall Harvest

If your springtime garden wasn’t as productive as you’d hoped don’t worry you’ve got a second chance! There’s many crops that are well suited to July planting and fall harvest. They’re great for storing into the winter months or simply extending the season of your fresh veggies.

These varieties were chosen based on zone 7a but even if you live in a much cooler climate there’s still many varieties that can be planted in July.

Umpqua Broccoli (95 days)

This broccoli produces great heads averaging 5-6 inches. It also produces nice side shoots and is an excellent fall variety.

For much cooler climates check out Calabrese (58 days) or Sorrento Broccoli Raab (45 days).

Savoy Perfection Cabbage (89 days)

These gorgeous cabbages have a good heat tolerance making them an ideal fall variety. The heads are round and average between 6-8lbs. Eat them fresh or try your hand at making kraut!

Danvers 126 Carrots (75 days)

Danvers are a classic carrot variety that’s great for a midsummer planting. They will tolerate the heat and store well for winter use.

Perpetual Spinach Leaf (55 days)

This hardy green will tolerate the heat of summer but keep producing well into the fall. It’s also a European heirloom dating back to 1869!

Small Red Bush Dry Bean (75 days)

These beans are realtively quick growing and very productive. They’re perfect for those still wanting to put up a dry bean harvest.

Early Golden Summer Crookneck Squash (50 days)

While many people are loaded with squash in the middle of the summer it can actually be nice to have a fall harvest as well. This variety was grown by the Native Americans and dates to before European contact. Later it was commonly grown by settlers in the Appalachians.

Purple Top White Globe Turnip (50 days)

This variety dates back to pre-1880 and offers classic turnip flavor with just 50 days to harvest.

Champion Collards (75 days)

Champion collards are productive and offer increased bolt resistance and enhanced winter hardiness!

Tanle Queen Vine (85 days)

Depending on your zone you may still even be able to sneak in some winter squash!This heirloom is one of the quickest varieties offered by SESE with just 85 days to harvest. They sweeten in storage and are excellent for baking.

Homemade Pickles Pickling Cucumber (55 days)

These vigorous cucumbers can provide you with an excellent second harvest. They’re disease resistant and productive. Don’t let the name fool you, pickling cucumbers can also be eaten fresh and are quite tasty.

 

These varieties are a great place to start but don’t hesitate to try others too, even if you think it’s a long shot. Especially if you live in a cool area, consider using season extenders like cold frames, hoop houses, or row cover.

Additional Resources

Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman (book)

Tips for Direct Sowing in Hot Weather by Lisa Dermer & Ira Wallace (blog post)

Succession Planting Warm-Season Crops for Hot Summers by Ira Wallace (blog post)

Summer Sowings: Continuous All Summer and Into Fall by Lisa Dermer (blog post)

Planning and Planting for an Abundant Fall and Winter Harvest by Ira Wallace & Lisa Dermer (blog post)