In October, for most of the United States, it might seem as though the growing season is quickly approaching its end. However, there are several ways you can extend the production from your garden well into, and even through, winter.
Plant Cold Hardy Vegetables
We’ve talked about it before in a previous blog post. There are quite a few vegetables you can plant in the fall that grow and thrive in cooler temperatures. Some vegetables to consider include radishes, lettuce, and beans that produce quickly so you will be able to harvest before severe weather arrives. Plants like kale, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can survive frost and even some snow. Other vegetables, particularly root vegetables like rutabaga and turnips will grow right through winter.
Mulch Your Garden
Take advantage of the fallen leaves or other organic matter and give your garden beds a good thick layer of mulch. Many cool-weather plants can easily handle lower temperatures if given a little extra protection. Mulch helps the soil to retain warmth and moisture and also protects plants from the freeze-thaw cycle of fall weather. Organic mulch also adds nutrients to your soil as it decomposes throughout the season.
Use a Grow Tunnel
One of our favorite ways to extend the season is to set up a grow tunnel. A grow tunnel consists of a simple frame, often made of wire, that is then covered with a “blanket” made of white spun polypropylene (a type of BPA-free plastic) fabric. The thin fabric allows light and water to pass through while providing protection from the changes in temperature. The fabric comes in various weights so you can use thinner fabric in warmer weather to protect delicate plants from heat and heavier fabric in the fall and winter to protect plants from cold and snow.
Use a Cold Frame or Cloches
Both cold frames and cloches can act as a mini-greenhouse for your plants. A cold frame is typically a box-like structure with a transparent roof that sits low to the ground and creates a microclimate for your vegetables. It is useful for starting delicate plants early in the spring and will help you grow vegetables into the winter because of the protection it provides. Cloches are traditionally bell-shaped glass domes that are placed over individual plants to provide a warm, moist environment. Today they are often made of transparent plastic. You can make your own version of a cloche with gallon milk jugs or 2-liter soda bottles by simply cutting off the bottom.
If growing outdoors is too inhospitable in your area, you can always have some fresh produce by growing indoors. Tomatoes, beans (especially peas and bush beans), and leafy greens will grow well in containers indoors as long as they get at least 8-12 hours of bright sunlight. A south-facing window is good for this, but there are many inexpensive grow lights available that can provide supplemental light if needed. Tabletop hydroponic systems (including Aerogardens) have also become popular and easily affordable.
Don’t let the onset of winter keep fresh vegetables off your dinner table. Some simple planning and basic structures can ensure that your garden continues to grow throughout the year. Shop these suggested seed collections and enjoy fresh produce in the coming months: