Knowing when to grow certain crops is important to sustaining production numbers throughout the year. Certain crops tolerate cool weather better than others, and vice versa. When it’s time to extend your season through the cooler months, there’s a lot of information to consider. The benefits of season extension can include year-round income, and increased production of high-quality produce. Firstly, it’s important to identify how you’re going to grow throughout the fall/winter months. Utilizing high tunnels is a great option to extending the growing season, however, there are other options for those with limited resources.

Soil radiates heat. Adding organic matter will darken the soil, resulting in the absorption of more heat. Using black plastic on produce beds will raise the soil temperature. Mulches insulate the ground, causing soil to release less heat at night. Depending on the temperature, row cover will help to trap the heat over night, surrounding your crops with warmer temperatures. In the middle of winter, when the temperatures are below freezing, it’s possible to add multiple layers of row cover to your crops. Row covers vary in thickness. The thickest fabric will provide more protection from cool temperatures, and greater absorption of heat. Now that we know how to keep our crops warm during fall and winter, let’s take a look at which produce grows best during the cool months.

There are tender crops and cool season crops. Tender crops will be damaged when exposed to below freezing temperatures. The crops include, but are not limited to, tomatoes, peppers, squashes and corn. The aforementioned crops will show seedling emergence much faster when the soil temperature is above sixty degrees, and will be less likely to grow in temperatures less than sixty degrees.

Cool season crops are grouped into three different groups. First, the “very hardy” crops can tolerate temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. Examples of these crops are as follows, leeks, parsnips, and spinach. Next, there are “hardy crops” which grow best in temperatures between 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. These crops include cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and mustard. Lastly, are the “semi-hardy” crops, they grow best in temperatures between 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit. Some semi-hardy crops are lettuce, cauliflower, beets, and peas.

Knowing when to plant cool season crops is vital to extending your growing season. This information depends on the type of crop you’re planting, and the days to maturity of said crop. As mentioned previously, the warmer the soil temperature, the more likely it is to produce seedling emergence in fewer days. As the temperature cools, the days to maturity is also extended. Growing in the fall and winter months might look a little different, but it is possible to produce high quality, high yield crops throughout the cool months.