Well, my gardening friends, they say “all good things must come to an end.” My question is: do they have to come to an end this early? Frost is coming this weekend, and I don’t want the party to end. I am wondering how to extend my garden season? Should I try to push the limits and test my luck a bit longer?
I know what you hardened and veteran gardeners are saying: “Don’t stop now; keep growing!”
I know exactly how you feel! I am feeling that way too!
The problem comes into how I set up the garden this year with vine crops on trellis systems. Is the juice worth the squeeze for keeping these plants going?
Frost is coming, folks! You can’t stop it; you can just prepare. I know others are wondering how to extend my garden season, so let’s dig into how we can do just that.
What’s the Big Deal with Frost?
The first frost is a big deal to gardeners because frost kills plants. Temperatures dip below 32° Fahrenheit, and frost forms on the plants in the garden, car windows and everything else outside. The problem is that water freezes in the plant cells, damaging the cells walls of the plants.
If you ever have put greens or herbs in your freezer, you know what happens next: the greens turn brown or black. They are limp and are typically distorted. Check the Small Scale Gardening video above for some real bad frost damage from a few years ago. I didn’t use the tomatoes or much of the produce that was left out in the frost; it was too damaged.
In your garden, frost damaged plants can’t wick up water from their roots to their leaves since the cell walls are damaged. Additionally, fruit like tomatoes and peppers turn mushy and brown. They are inedible.
Frost is destructive and will kill your plants. According to my posted titled Extending the Garden Season: Frost Protection and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, frosts are classified in three categories (all temperatures in Fahrenheit):
- Light freeze: 29° F to 32° F— tender plants killed.
- Moderate freeze: 25° F to 28° F— widely destructive to most vegetation.
- Severe freeze: 24° F and colder—heavy damage to most plants.
As I mentioned Extending the Garden Season: Frost Protection, to find the frost date in your location, go to the National Weather Service, Old Farmer’s Almanac or other sites to check the first frost date.
How to Extend My Garden Season: Typical Methods
Since frost wipes out plants in your garden, you can take steps to protect against it. Essentially water vapor is freezing on the surface of your plants and inside the plants. To protect against that, you can use the following: frost covers, low tunnel row covers, cold frames and greenhouses. Let’s talk about each one.
Frost Covers are effective and very inexpensive. They are bed sheets, blankets and (in a pinch) tarps draped over your plants. You are protecting from the water vapor freezing on your plants, and these do a great job. I have seen plants in some really low temperatures using simple bed sheets and blankets for frost covers.
The trick is to get the frost covers off your plants as the sun rises so they can continue to grow. You get into a sheet/blanket/tarp management situation. Of course, your garden will look like a circus in the morning, but hey, your plants will survive to grow another day!
Row Covers – Low Tunnels
Some folks install low tunnels over their plants. This is typically done when you have a row of plants (like salad greens) that you want to protect from frost. You construct a frame using pipes (PVC or conduit, depending on your budget and row size), and drape plastic over the pipe framing. You can use wood, stones or sandbags to keep the plastic in place during windy days.
These are effective and low costs systems, and it is a method that would work well with my garden! There are commercially available low tunnels, but you can just as easily build one with standard parts. It will be a great Do It Yourself Project that I will post up after installing them in my garden.
A cold frame is effectively a box around your plants with a window on top of the box. It is effectively a solarium/small greenhouse for your plants that insulates the plants and allows them to grow as the weather gets colder.
If you constructed a simple solarium as a child, you know what I am talking about. The window or transparent top lets sunlight in and prevents heat to escape, especially at night. It can get warm inside the cold frame during the day, so you might need to prop the window open.
Cold frames can be made out of spare materials and old windows, so they really can be a Do It Yourself project on the cheap!
Heated Green Houses
Yes, we know these will work. I just had to put this here because I would REALLY love one some day soon. Enough said.
How to Extend My Garden Season in the New Garden
The new garden has some interesting challenges given the trellises and types of plants currently growing. Let’s take a look at each bed and discuss potential strategies to extend the garden season.
Wicking Bed 1
Wicking Bed 1 is a galvanized steel watering trough that has been converted to a Wicking Bed. I grew potatoes, sugar snap peas and green pole beans this year. The sugar snap peas are long gone, and I harvested the potatoes in mid-September. I planted the green pole beans in August, and they were screened by potatoes that grew almost 4 feet tall!
I planted lettuce and kale in Wicking Bed 1 on October 1st. I knew I was taking a chance with these greens considering our first frost date is October 10th!
I know lettuce and kale can survive colder weather, and I am considering building a quick and simple row cover or cold frame for these greens. I know I can extend my growing season and see these greens grow to a bigger size before it all comes to an end.
I can keep the green pole beans alive with tarps for frosts, but I will be traveling over the next few weeks, so someone from my family will need to watch the weather, put the tarps on and take them off each day. That might be difficult as everyone is rushing out the door in the morning. I have a feeling the green pole beans might be a lost cause after next week.
Wicking Bed 2
Wicking Bed 2 is another galvanized steel watering trough that has been converted to a Wicking Bed. In this Wicking Bed, I have tomatoes, cucumbers, some onions, some peppers and had some carrots growing in it. The tomatoes and cucumbers are growing well and have taken over the bed. The shorter vegetables have been screened out.
I trellised the tomatoes and cucumbers up on stainless steel conduit with bailing twine. Unfortunately, there is no way to build a cold frame around these plants, so the only way to keep them going with the frost is with frost covers like tarps, bedsheets and blankets. The trick with frost covers is taking off the cover so the plants get sun during the day, especially when I am on the road. The days are numbered for these plants.
Big Self-Watering Basin
This has been my spot for peppers, peppers and more peppers! I have been very pleased with the performance of the Self-Watering Basin this year, and I might enhance it next year to automate it. We’ll see; there are a lot of things I want to do next year.
Here is a list of the peppers and other plants growing in this big self-watering basin:
- Jalapeno Peppers (3 plants)
- Chili Peppers (2 plants)
- Bell Peppers (2 plants)
- Banana Peppers (2 plants)
- Sweet Red Peppers (2 plants)
- Sweet Yellow Peppers (2 plants)
- Sweet Orange Peppers (2 plants)
- Basil (2 varieties)
- White Pine Tree (1)
These plants are growing in 2 gallon or 3 gallon grow bags (Root Pouches, VivoSun Grow Bags or others). I can use simple tarps or blankets to cover these peppers to extend the season a bit longer.
One of my lessons learned for 2019 is one I have learned before: trellis top-heavy pepper plants! If I had built a trellis system for this planter, I could use that trellis for a low tunnel row cover. I can use frost covers to extend the season a bit longer for the peppers. I will bring the white pine tree inside, and I just might bring the basil in as well.
Salsa Patio Self-Watering Garden
In early August 2019, I built and planted out the Salsa Patio Self-Watering Garden. The goal of this compact self-watering planter system is to grow a lot of food in a really small space. I planted it with the goal to make salsa from the produce harvested from this planter, so naturally I planted tomatoes, onions, green onions and pepper plants in it. I am using a combination of 3 gallon and 5 gallon Root Pouches and Vivosun grow bags.
The Salsa Patio Self-Watering Garden has done really well considering the planter has only been in operation for 70 days or so. The tomatoes are loaded and I have already harvested some onions.
Unlike the Big Self-Watering Basin, I do have a trellis system on this planter. I will use it to drape frost covers over the plants over the next couple nights. I think I extend my garden season and keep this planter going for a while longer very successfully!
Winter is Coming: How to Extend My Garden Season
We can’t stop the seasons from changing and the merciless march of time. We can plan and take action to keep our gardens growing. I am going to install some low tunnels on Wicking Bed 1 and the Big Self-Watering Basin, and I am going to use row covers on Wicking Bed 2 and the Salsa Patio Self-Watering Garden.
If I do this right, I can squeeze a few more weeks out of the garden before I shut everything down and head inside for the winter.
How about you? What are you doing to extend your garden season? Did you use one of these methods or try something else? I would love to know! Post comments below or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s time to extend our season just a little longer. It will be worth it!
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