Greetings, Grow Appalachians! It’s Holly the HQ VISTA once again! Now, I imagine some of you are probably thinking, “Why in the world are we hearing from Holly twice in the same week?” There are many answers to this question, so I’ll keep it simple with this: We at Grow Appalachia HQ are “re-vamping” our newsletters and blogs for this year; in addition to our usual rudimentary goings on here, we’re taking a more informational and intentional approach with our outreach, providing information that you, our sites, can use and refer back to later. That way, you don’t have to waste time wading through the proverbial pool of information that’s out there- you can always come back to us! Also, Jeffrey and I try to divide tasks as equally as possible: he wrote the newsletter last week, so this week, you get me again with another blog, and then we’ll switch! Ah…don’t you love the sound of delegation in the morning?
I’m covering a topic (pardon the pun, as you’ll read further) that many of you are pretty familiar with: season extension. Season extension is exactly what it sounds like- adding extra time to your growing season with the assistance of a variety of measures. It can be a great “golden ticket”, so to speak, if you are a market gardener; season extension gives you the upper hand because you will have produce available when many other growers may still be planting or otherwise not producing. Below is not an exhaustive list; I’m simply highlighting a few. As you may already know, or will soon discover, there are many different tools and techniques out there, so pick one (or a few) that best fit your individual circumstances.
1. Row covers
Chances are, you have seen these at some point or another. They consist of a lightweight, pliable material like polyester, or they can be plastic as well. Row covers are used as a protective means for outdoor crops, providing a few extra degrees of heat when the temperatures start to drop. In addition to protecting your plants from the elements, row covers are a viable option for pest control because you are not needing to use any potentially pesticides or other chemicals. When using row covers, be sure to apply them loosely so your plants have added room to grow. Apply them right at planting for best results. You can adopt a floating row cover method, which is simply your material of choice placed directly on top of your plants, or you can anchor them into the ground with small wire hoops.
Agribon is a popular choice for fabric, and you can find it here.
2. Low tunnels
Low tunnels, or quick hoops or caterpillar tunnels, are very similar to row covers. They consist of 10-foot long PVC pipes or wire that are bent into hoops (You can buy them pre-bent as well), and then covered with greenhouse plastic, a lightweight fabric like what’s used in row covers, or sometimes both for additional insulation. Low tunnels also require ventilation in the summer or when the sun is out- otherwise, your plants will probably cook! A considerable pro to low tunnels is that they are very cost-efficient: for a 4 x 40 tunnel, it’s about $0.31/square foot. Finally, low tunnels are simple to construct, so grab a few of your friends and get digging!
3. Plastic mulches
Also known as “plasticulture”, plastic mulches are used in lieu of your standard run-of-the-mill mulches in order to provide a higher standard of weed and insect control. In addition, plastic mulch reduces water evaporation and nutrient leaching. Plastic mulches come in a variety of colors. Black plastic, which is the most commonly used, absorbs the most UV rays, therefore retaining a great deal of heat for the soil and stunts weed growth. On the other hand, clear plastic provides the most warmth to the soil but does encourage weed growth because of its transparency. Another type of plastic mulch, infrared transmitting mulch, or IRT, transmits infrared radiation to the soil, but blocks visible radiation, as black mulch does. IRT mulch is typically brown or green. Crop-specific mulches are also available, color-coded in accordance with a crop (i.e. tomatoes and red mulch). Plastic mulches can be used in organic enterprises as long as it is removed from the site at the end of the season.
4. Raised beds
Known also as garden boxes, raised beds are perfect for small-space gardening, or if you are looking to grow a particular crop at a smaller scale. Raised beds consist of soil that has been formed into a “bed” and then a frame is built around it. This type of gardening allows for excellent drainage, especially if you live in an area that may have less-than-desirable soil. Since the entire system is elevated, it allows the roots to travel downward, naturally. Because the soil receives better drainage, it also accelerates soil drying and warmth, which can allow for planting in between rainy periods. Planting can begin in early spring with raised beds. If the maximum amount of space is utilized for raised bed gardening, enough shade is produced to stunt weed growth, thus allowing for less maintenance as well. Ideally, raised beds are 11-12” high, although some are as high as 3 feet.
5. High tunnels– If you are even remotely familiar with Grow Appalachia and you don’t know what a high tunnel is, I’m going to have to kindly ask you to leave. Kidding!! High tunnels, or hoop houses, are a very common tool in season extension. They manifest themselves in many sizes and layouts, although a Quonset model (rounded top) and a Gothic model (peaked top) seem to be the most popular. They are covered with greenhouse-grade polyethylene plastic, with a roll-up or drop-down side mechanism to allow for adequate ventilation in the evenings and during the summer months. Unlike greenhouses, where some crops are grown in flats on benches or tables and then transplanted, with high tunnels, you plant all crops directly into the ground and tend to them as if they were growing in an outdoor garden. I think we have more than a few happy customers who are satisfied with their high tunnels!
As I mentioned earlier, this is not an exhaustive list, so feel free to investigate any other methods out there that may tickle your fancy. Let us know what works for you…and what doesn’t! Happy growing, and see you all next week!