By Jodi Torpey
Are you a fair-weather gardener? If so you’re missing out on a whole season of gardening.
Instead of hanging up your gardening gear when the weather turns chilly, break out the fleece and get ready to enjoy fresh herbs, leafy greens, and cold-hardy vegetables in the middle of winter.
Sheets, blankets, and floating row covers are the simplest ways to protect plants still growing in late fall. Simply toss covers over plants at night and remove them the next day, so the sun can warm the soil to carry plants through the next cold night. These covers work best when the fabric stays dry overnight.
Another easy way to protect plants is a cloche. A plastic milk jug, with the bottom cut off, acts like a personal mini greenhouse. You can make cloches of glass, clay, light plastic, or other materials that help plants withstand a night of frost or snow. Even an upside-down bucket can serve as plant protection.
As with other covers you need to remove or vent cloches on warm days to keep plants from overheating.
A cold frame probably is the most versatile of all the season extenders because it gives gardeners a sheltered spot for growing in cold weather. Cold frames are short boxes you can purchase ready-made or built from wood scraps, concrete blocks, or even straw bales. The frame sits on the soil and has a hinged lid you can prop open to let air circulate during the day.
You can plant herbs, leafy greens, carrots, and other cold-hardy vegetables in a cold frame. Transplant plants or sow them directly into the soil.
It’s important to know your area’s average date for the first hard freeze, and the number of days to maturity for the edibles you want to plant. Give seeds and transplants time to grow and reach good sizes before short days set in and plant growth slows.
Another simple protective structure is a frame made from plastic hoops topped with floating row cover or heavy-duty plastic. Large clips hold the covers for these hoop tunnels in place so you can open them during the day to moderate the inside temperature. During extremely cold weather an insulating blanket helps protect the edibles planted inside.
Gardeners are a creative bunch when it comes to cold-weather gardening. What ideas do you have for extending your gardening season?
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