Season Extension – Getting More Green From Your Garden

Sharon July 31st, 2008

My favorite way to eat most foods is fresh, just picked.  That means my absolute favorite way to store food is to extend my garden’s season so I don’t have to do any major preservation work.  And this is so easy – fall gardening is fun, no pests, and the food tastes better after a frost or two generally – the difference is huge.  Kale eaten after a hard freeze is tender, with a deep sweetness.  Kale before a freeze ain’t bad.  Carrots that have undergone some cold weather are sugary, cabbage sweet and crisp.  This is a good thing.

 Even in chilly upstate NY, without a greenhouse or a hoophouse (I’m hoping to have the latter soonish), I can keep stuff going through December and into January.  The last few years, I’ve managed to overwinter spinach, kale and leeks occasionally completely unprotected – throw a foot or two of leaves on things, and no problem. 

The book to get on this subject is Eliot Coleman’s _Four Season Harvest_ and I’m going to really recommend you use it.  Obviously, the degree to which you can do this or need to do this will depend on where you live – in the coldest places, you can’t leave anything out at all. In warm ones, season-extension might be throwing a blanket over the watermelon during the occasional frost.  But for my area, I’ll give you a sense of how it works.

 There are two kinds of season extension, to my mind.  The first is the protection of crops so that you can harvest over the winter, the second is the planting of crops that will grow or regrow very early in the spring, to tide you over when nothing else is growing.  Both are good. 

For the former, generally most of the growth has to be done here by mid-September – which means that I’m planting a lot of the fall greens and vegetables right now.  Peas are started in peat pots inside, roots are planted or transplanted to be harvested in October or later.  Quick growing greens like mizuna, arugula and spinach can be planted as late as early September. 

Then the question is how much protection do they need, and do I want to give them?  I’m lazy – but you can do all sorts of things – cold frames are great – you can build them or make them out of straw bales and old windows.  Floating row covers will offer some protection, as will mulch.  Even blankets thrown on at night and taken off in the morning will extend your season a week or two in many cases.  Don’t forget to bring in containers and keep them growing on a windowsill – that’s season extension too!

 The amount of effort you put in, and your investment will depend on what you are trying to accomplish – to keep a full crop of vegetables in place all winter will probably involve at a minimum a hoophouse and floating row covers, and maybe supplemental heat in a cold spot.  To extend your season an extra month or so might be easily done with some plastic and some leaves.  Again, there’s a lot of information out there, more than  I can offer here.

 The second kind of storage is related – the kind you eat early in the spring – for example, parsnips are often used this way, kept in the ground until the thaw begins and dug and enjoyed then at their sweetest.   Salsify and scorzonera work this way too.   Kale, leeks, collards, roots, winter lettuces, mache and other very cold hardy things can also be overwintered with mulch – they will die back during the winter, but regrow vigorously long before you can get down into the soil.

 The thing is, while you can learn a lot from Coleman and others, if you want fresh foods year round (other than sprouts) it will take practice – this is one of those things where advice can, I think only go so far – you will need to do a lot of experimentation – but think about how glorious it is to be able to eat things fresh, when nothing else fresh is about.

 Sharon

10 Responses to “Season Extension – Getting More Green From Your Garden”

  1. kory says:

    I definitely concur with the book recommendation, I learned a lot about not just extending seasons, but which crops can actually thrive in colder months. Still have problem finding mache seed though.

  2. Theresa says:

    I have purchased Coleman’s book, and it has a lot of good stuff in there. I’m looking forward to trying out some of these techniques in my Zone 2/3 garden this winter! I’ve just planted some kale, spinach, beet greens and chard from seed in my garden, which I’m hoping will be just right for Fall picking, with maybe some kale for over winter. This year I’ve been trying all sorts of things, just to see what works here and so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Kale seems to grow anywhere under almost any weather or soil conditions, in containers or in the ground, from seed or from seedlings I’ve started inside. Pretty amazing stuff! Wheat, barley, flax and oats grow well too, even when I accidentally neglect them.

  3. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Season Extension – Getting More Green From Your Garden My favorite way to eat most foods is fresh, just picked. That means my absolute favorite way to store food is to extend my garden’s season so I don’t have to do any major preservation work. And this is so easy – fall gardening is fun, no pests, and the food tastes better after a frost or two generally – the difference is huge. Kale eaten after a hard freeze is tender, with a deep sweetness. Kale before a freeze ain’t bad. Carrots that have undergone some cold weather are sugary, cabbage sweet and crisp. This is a good thing. Casaubon’s Book: Diving In and Getting Going July 31st, 2008 [...]

  4. Lewru says:

    I don’t comment very often but I love, love, love your blog and I feel compelled to point out the irony of your statement about being lazy.

  5. Central_PA_Chris says:

    The appliances used in the book Solar Gardening are pretty excellent for season extending. Not cheap, but good long term investments.

    Chris

  6. NM says:

    Kory, try looking for corn salad, or lamb’s lettuce; mache is one of those things that has a lot of names. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has it, also Thompson and Morgan and Victory Seed Co. (www.victoryseeds.com).

  7. vlad says:

    earthsheltered greenhouse

    http://tinyurl.com/2kma7z

  8. annette says:

    Yes, Territorial Seeds lists Vit, Corn Salad, and Lamb’s lettuce as alternate names for Mache – and they carry it as Corn Salad. Also, another good book for those of us in the Pacific Northwest is “Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest” by Binda Colebrook. First published in 1977, but still packed with useful information.

  9. Nita says:

    Another good book on year-round gardening is GARDENING WHEN IT COUNTS, GROWING FOOD IN HARD TIMES, by Steve Solomon founder of Territorial Seeds. Good info about feeding yourself on a small plot of land!

  10. rent car says:

    I will not going to say what everyone has just said, but I do want to comment on your knowledge of the topic , i can say you’re truly well informed .

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