For a long time, gardeners have labored under the impression that they have a 3 month window, typically from April or May until school starts, to get their garden just right. Plant like crazy in the spring, pray for the perfect weather, and then harvest all through summer. Right?
Well…Not completely wrong.
Here at Grow Appalachia, one of our required workshops for our participants is season extension; that is, starting your garden season both earlier and later than typical, so you can produce as many months out of the year as possible. We believe that gardening should be a year-round activity, and that a longer growing season is highly advantageous, primarily from a financial/marketplace standpoint. Season extension practices in your operation can give you a much-needed leg up if you’re a market grower, as you will have products available during “off” months while other growers are either finished for the season or still planting. Just think what an extra few weeks would do…
So what exactly is season extension? Simply put, it’s adding additional time to the growing season with the aid of a variety of measures. There are many tools and techniques out there, and this newsletter will cover just a few, so do your own research and try a few methods to suit your individual circumstances.
1. Row Cover- Chances are, you’ve seen variations of this many times before: lightweight, pliable material that is situated over crops in order to protect them against harsh climates and pests. In winter, row cover can provide a few additional degrees of warmth. Be sure to apply row cover loosely over plants so continued growth can be accommodated for.
2. Low tunnels- Also known as caterpillar tunnels or low tunnel greenhouses, low tunnels consist of 10-foot PVC pipes or wires that are bent into hoops, and then covered with greenhouse-grade plastic or lightweight fabric. Unlike row cover, which keeps crops…well…covered, low tunnels require ventilation during the summertime. Otherwise, you’ll scorch your plants! One bonus of low tunnels is that they are very cost-efficient. A 4 x 40′ low tunnel costs about $0.31/square foot!
3. High tunnels- If you’ve been following Grow Appalachia for a while, you might have an idea as to what these are! High tunnels are a semi-permanent structure, similar to a greenhouse, that can provide some degree of control of light intake, temperature, and soil conditions for crop growth. Unlike a greenhouse, crops growing in a high tunnel are planted directly into the ground and tended as if they were growing in an outdoor garden. The most common sizes of these are 30 x 72, but Grow Appalachia offers smaller, “homestead” designs that fit a wide variety of landscapes, climates, and terrains. High tunnels are covered with greenhouse-grade plastic and are constructed with a wood and metal frame for rigidity. Like low tunnels, high tunnel crops also require ventilation during the summertime.
4. Cold frames- Less cost efficient that low tunnels, cold frames function like a mini greenhouse. Most gardeners find cold frames beneficial in starting seedlings and aiding in the “hardening off” process of transplants, and to also prevent “legginess” that some transplants started indoors can be prone to. Cold frames are typically built off the ground and at an angle, to capture as much sunlight as possible. With a simple Google search, you can find hundreds of inexpensive DIY building plans, using recycled or repurposed materials.
5. Plastic mulches- Often referred to as plasticulture, plastic mulches are used as a replacement of standard mulches (wood chips, straw, pine needles, etc) in order to provide higher levels of pest and weed control. They also greatly reduce evaporation. Plastic mulches are offered in many colors, black being most standard, as it absorbs the most UV rays, sending direct heat to soil and stunting weed growth. Plasticulture can be used in organic enterprises as long as it is removed each growing season.
As previously mentioned, this is not an entirely exhaustive list. In fact, we’ve barely scratched the surface of all the options that exist! If you’re serious about season extension, do your research. What’s listed here may not be the best solution for you. Try one thing, try many things, but keep trying! Grow Appalachia is here to help if you get stuck.
Happy growing, and if you live in or around Berea today– get out there today! High of 77 and not a cloud in the sky!
An Overview of Season Extension techniques from NCAT (National Center for Appropriate Technology)
Season Extension from High Rocks (GA partner site in Pocahontas Co, WV)
More on low tunnels from Williamson (GA partner site in Mingo Co, WV)
Interested in a high tunnel? Visit our high tunnel page and contact Chris or Mark!