In the Garden: 3 Ways to Extend the Season

by Nicole Wines

Although the summer season is winding down at Raíces headquarters in central NJ, the gardening season is far from over.  In fact, it is easy to extend the harvest season by months by using a few resources and planning for the seasons.  Here are some simple ways to extend the harvest season in your gardens.

1. Succession Planting/Planning for the Seasons

Succession planting is when you sow seeds for any one variety multiple times in a season, usually several weeks apart.  In our gardens, we plant lettuce at least 5 times in a growing season.  Depending on the temperatures, we plant some a month before the last frost date, again at the last frost date, two weeks after the last frost date and then, if it isn’t getting too hot, a month after the last frost date.  Then we sow it again in the late summer for a fall and early winter harvest.  This type of planting allows for a longer and more continuous harvest season of that particular variety of plant.

frosthardyAlso, when planning your garden, be sure to account for the change in seasons.  There are some plants that like to grow in the heat, some that prefer growing in cooler months, and some that are even frost hardy.  You may be able to use the same space for more than one planting in a season if you plan ahead.  For example, you can plant early lettuce or radishes in an area that you can sow zucchini or melon seeds once the spring harvest is over.  If you have extra space nearby the zucchini (or other summer crop), you can use that space to sow fall and frost hardy, fall sown plants or cover crops like beets or broccoli or winter rye.  When the zucchini plant dies back, the fall plant will have even more space to grow and flourish.  Utilizing the same space for multiple plantings over a season can increase the amount of harvest you get from your garden, just remember that it can also deplete your soil.  We keep ours moist and fed using leaf and straw mulching of certain plants and plots, compost and compost tea, and perennial cover crops like vetch.

2. Cold Frames and Hoop Houses

Another way to extend your growing season is to make use of cold frames and hoop houses.  These can be used for in-ground plantings as well as raised beds.  These are best used to extend the season of cold hardy crops like leafy greens, keeping them warm in the day and protected at night.  They can extend the season as much as a month at the beginning and end of the year, depending on nighttime low temperatures.  Cold frames are more durable and solid in construction, usually made from glass or plastic on a wooden or pvc frame.  They are like miniature greenhouses.  You can buy them ready made or ready-to-assemble, but it is more fun and sustainable to make your own out of upcycled materials.

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Cold frame constructed as a Raíces D.I.Y. Fridays project, planted with over a dozen varieties of lettuce and cold tolerant greens in February. Most of the greens had sprouted by the time this photo was taken on March 17. Without a cold frame or a greenhouse, we wouldn’t normally have anything planted by that date in the season.

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The same raised bed with cold frame planted lettuce on April 22 of the same growing season, ready to harvest and eat at a time in the season where normally the first sprouts are just beginning to germinate.

Small garden hoop houses are usually less solid and permanent in construction thank cold frames, but can also be used for both in-ground planting and raised beds.  They can be constructed from PVC or metal hoops anchored into the ground or sides of a raised bed and covered with agricultural cloth or UV resistant plastic.  Most hoop houses are easy to use in different parts of your growing space from year to year and also easy to take apart and store during the hot part of the growing season. Here is a hoop house design for a raised bed photographed in a community garden in New Brunswick, NJ.

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3. Row Covers

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Floating row cover used in a Raíces garden to keep lettuce heads growing through the end of December.

Row covers, also known as floating row covers, are like hoop houses without the hoop.  The agricultural cloth just simply rests on the ground or on top of freshly sprouted seedlings to keep them a little warmer than if they were exposed to the outside air.  The agricultural cloth traps the heat of the sunlight and warms the soil and the plants, helps keep moisture from evaporating, and protecting beds of greens from early pests like flea beetles.  Row covers can also be used simply to warm up the soil for a couple of days or weeks before planting.

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