The Garden Patch: Extend your gardening season

052514-garden-excericiseGardening season is just TOO short! I’ve said it, you’ve probably said it or thought it and many, many others share this thinking. OK, then, how do we make gardening season longer? Read on for tips and techniques for a longer season …

Beets – Sow (in the garden) about 10 weeks before the average first frost date. Pick mature beets before the first hard freeze. Harvest immature beets in autumn or mulch heavily to over winter.

Broccoli – Sow seed directly by mid-July or at the latest by August. Protect with floating row covers. SOME cultivars can withstand temperatures below freezing as long as the weather is evenly cool.

Brussels sprouts – Sow in succession for harvesting from early fall until late spring. Cold-hardy cultivars survive temperatures as low as 14 degrees F. Freezing temperatures enhance flavor.

Cabbage – Set out cold-hardy transplants no earlier than 10 to 12 weeks before the first frost.

Carrots – Mulch with 8 to 12 inches of hay or straw before the ground freezes. Dig all winter!

Cauliflower – Plant in time for it to mature in cool weather, but before the first frost. Or plant frost-tolerant cultivars like White Sails and protect with floating row covers.

Chard – After the first frost, protect with floating row covers or mulch deeply to extend the harvest into winter. Plant as a winter crop in a cold frame.

Garlic – Plant 2 to 4 weeks before the first frost to harvest the following summer.

Leeks – Harvest cold-hardy cultivars such as Blue Solaise all winter if temperatures stay above 10 degrees. Pull the last of the leeks before seed stalks appear in the spring.

Lettuce – Sow leaf lettuce at least 7 weeks before the first frost and heading types 10 weeks before; mulch heavily to insulate soil. Cold-hardy cultivars can be over wintered in cold frames or under row covers.

Onions – Some varieties, including Egyptian onions and Walla Walla, can be

overwintered with a thick layer of mulch or in a cold frame in more severe climates. For an early-spring crop of shallots in our colder climate, plant after the first frost. If planted earlier, they may send up top growth that would be damaged by winter cold.

Spinach – Plant hardy cultivars such as Winter Bloomsdale about a month before the first frost. Sow in late winter in a cold frame for an early-spring crop.

OK! That should keep you busy for the winter! And full of vegetables (fresh) and ready for your regular spring garden! Shall we move on?

With planning and care, you can have a thriving cold weather garden, one that will yield fresh vegetables long after the normal season has ended. Many crops that perform well in cool spring weather and are harvested in summer can be planted a second time for a fall harvest. In general, vegetables that grow best in cool weather are leafy greens and root crops. When choosing cultivars for harvesting in the cooler temperatures and shorter days of fall and winter, look for characteristics such as cold hardiness and quick maturity.

Some good candidates are: Arugula, broccoli (Waltham and Green Valiant), Brussels sprouts (Jade Cross), carrot (Napoli), cauliflower (Violet Queen and Snow Crown), endive (Salad King or Tres Fin, fine curled), kale (Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch Vates, Blue Siberian and Winterbor), leek (Alaska, Blue Solaise), lettuce (Black-seeded Simpson, Four Seasons, Oakleaf, Salad Bowl, Rouge d’Hiver and Winter Density).

Others include onion (Beltsville Bunching, and Egyptian onion Ishikura) and not to forget radishes (Munich Bier and Round Black Spanish).

What are row covers?

Row covers are one of the most effective and practical season extenders. When frost threatens, you can quickly and easily install row covers over a single row or an entire section of your garden.

Floating row covers made of spun bonded polyester can be placed directly over plants without a supporting structure. These fabric covers allow water, air and sunlight to reach the plants while offering frost protection to around 28 degrees F. If winds threaten, you can bury the edges of the covers in the soil or weight them down with rocks. Floating row covers come in rolls of various sizes and are sold at most garden supply stores.

Another material commonly used for row covers is transparent polyethylene plastic. It is too heavy to lay directly on plants, however, and must be supported by wire, PVC pipes or wood arches. A polyethylene row cover offers a greater degree of frost protection than a row cover of spun bonded fabric, but it needs more frequent monitoring than the fabric cover to prevent overheating and excessive humidity; on a sunny day, the temperature beneath a plastic row cover may be 20 degrees warmer than the outside air. On warm days, you’ll need to fold the polyethylene sheet back lengthwise to increase air circulation and moderate the temperature. (Yours truly had the privilage of working with this material back in the late 1950s when it was very experimental!) You can also buy polyethylene with slits to allow for good air circulation, but it will provide less frost protection than a solid sheet.

OK, folks, that’s it for this week! Glad I got to contact you again via this electronic miracle! We’ll share some more ‘for long! Till next time, happy gardening (or planning)!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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