Question of the Month

What’s your favorite trick for extending the growing season?

(Please let us know in the comments—we’ll compile the answers into an article soon!)

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51 Comments

  • Suzanne Fulton says:

    By letting some lettuce & cilantro go to seed in the garden, the new plants start as soon as they can sometimes they even overwinter here in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

    1. Kathy Harbert says:

      there is a practice here in Missouri to toss lettuce seeds onto any late winter snow. Always get a nice bed of early leaf lettuce this way.

  • Jeannie says:

    Deep rich mulch helps my black clay soil warm up more quickly in the spring. I can plant earlier and avoid the stress on the roots.
    I also allow as many crops as possible to reseed.

  • Mary Spencer says:

    I live in South Texas and we just had a hurricane. I have two raised bed plots so I tried (experiment) test tomatoes and green beans out of season and cold spell wiped them out. Other plants survived. I no longer have my job and living on $706. a month. Now am serious about raising as much as I possibly can to eat. I have a pot garden at home and the two plots at the Community garden. (All completely furnished with seeds, tools, watered by them, etc. and run by AGRi-Life (college grants). Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Do you have free seeds from some source?

  • Sandra Forrester says:

    By planting in deep mulch and using tires as a protection around each plant. The tire is not used as a planter to hold the soil and plant but simply as a plant perimeter wall. It acts as a windbreak, creates a microclimate, and we can easily cover the tires if needed with gardening cloth for added warmth or insert chicken wire (or other wire fencing) in it to make a cage and cover that with cloth like a cold frame for taller plants. We stack two tires for plants that need more support. Works like a charm all year round and we’ve found a use for the tires, which are a free resource.

    1. Sandra Forrester says:

      We live in NE New Mexico, 6000′ above sea level in semi arid, cool climate. Neutral but quite sandy soil, in open grasslands…which means some strong winds!

  • Greta says:

    Here in Kentucky we have sudden frosts and cold spells until the middle of May so I start everything early and save 1 gal water jugs all year. I cut the bottom out if them all leaving the plastic tops. At the end of each row I press in a round, electric fence post and hang as many altered jugs on it as it will hold. (This keeps the winds from blowing them all over the farm. ) Some things like cool weather and frost doesn’t do any harm so I leave the early spring crops alone mostly. But anything that needs warmer soil and protection against cold air and frost gets a “mini green house” in the evening if needed. If I can’t be out first thing in the morning I pop the caps off the top to keep hot air from building up when the sun hits them. This works for vines after planting too.

    1. Kathy Harbert says:

      I do that too here in Missouri. It works extremely well for tomatoes and peppers and eggplant, getting them started a bit earlier.

  • Rufus says:

    We use Tires stacked 2-3 high to have a raised bed. They warm the ground faster in early spring in NW Central Texas and the sidewalls hold water longer than just dirt. Plus NOT so much stooping over and easier to weed. Wire cages can keep the W. Texas Wind from ripping things apart and hold a shade if need be.

  • Burt Crews says:

    We start our plants indoors in our “sun room”. This gives us a head start in our raised beds. Mulch is also important. We use wheat straw from a local farmer both for mulch and in the chicken coop and run for mulch later. Raised beds are impacted by the cold more as the wind and cold surround the beds.

  • chritelle says:

    I’m trying different intensity shade cloth to protect winter plants from frost and benefit from variety shade conditions. Most Veg like full sun but to lengthen their life span gives a bit of protection during storms. I’m also thinking of using fish poop as feeding Veg with nutrients. Still putting plan into action. Tell you if it works latter.

  • Lily says:

    First, I agree with Suzanne that I let some go to seed, so they get a head start in the spring. I don’t know if the second is an actual season extender, but after a few fall frosts I cover my carrots with hay/straw and harvest them through the winter.

  • Sylvia H Percy says:

    Planting in a low tunnel in the fall like Justin Rhodes did. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IBA-D2-FFk

  • Barbara says:

    I live in NW Florida so winters are unpredictable have things like collards, carrots, onions, garlic and leeks out in the open bed. They usually can handle a hard freeze. I use plastic hoop low tunnels for potatoes, spinach and mint and a portable plastic unheated greenhouse for a citrus tree, tomatoes and lettuce during winter and for seed starting in January.

    1. Laurie Kreuser says:

      I’m in Pensacola, how about you? Can you post a picture of your portable plastic unheated greenhouse? I could have used 2 of those for my orange and lemon tree I just put into the ground this past fall. I have them covered with a sheet which I’m afraid won’t do the trick! Where did you get such a thing?

  • Arlene says:

    The plant I bought fir your teeth I planted an it is nit growing

  • Debbie says:

    I start seeds inside in re-purposed food containers or whatever else I can find that will hold a little dirt. I find they need heat and light—lots of light to grow well. In spite of being by a double window, I shine several regular light bulbs in inexpensive, portable light fixtures on them. I know you are supposed to use grow lights, but I am just supplementing the sunlight for a couple of months to keep the plants from getting too leggy, and they seem to do okay.

    After the outside temperature warms up enough, I transfer the plants, still in their pots, into an enclosure against the south side of my house that I framed with PVC pipe and wrapped all around with the clear plastic that comes in rolls. If we get a cold spell, I have the option of bringing the plants back inside or running a small space heater in the enclosure overnight. It isn’t the prettiest thing to look at, but is temporary and works until I can afford something better. I get a whole lot more plants for my money by starting them from seed than buying starts.

    Of course, by mid-May or early June, depending on the weather forecast and the type of plant, the plants go into the ground and the makeshift greenhouse gets partially disassembled and put away for the following year.

  • I do the research!! What plants are cold hardy? Collards and many green leafy vegetables especially the crinkled leaves and the more crinkled, the more cold hardy. Drumhead cabbage, Mache, a salad green, Blue Max for collards etc. BLESSINGS

  • Stephanie Lebron says:

    Confess I just mulch heavily if I’m trying to extend the garden. Haven’t graduated to hoop houses, although we tried a cold frame for a couple years, very low tech.

  • Kathy Harbert says:

    1. Laying black plastic or landscape cloth (re-useable) down in very early spring to kill off weeds AND help warm the soil gets me into the garden earlier. If you are using a no-till practice, you can just cut holes in the plastic to plant started plants, then mulch over the top when the weather gets hot.
    2. using gallon milk jugs as mini greenhouses for plants that appreciate extra warmth early in the season. Mulch around the milk jugs. Remove milk jugs when the plant fills the jug.
    3. a lean-to greenhouse next to the kitchen window. It is easy to keep warm all winter with a small utility heater (even with temps down to zero) . It holds my tropicals and some flowering plants (so nice to look out on in the winter) and with the aid of a commercial bread rack, I have vertical shelving for starting seeds in a warm environment with good light.
    4. a mid sized hoophouse is by far the most wonderful thing I have done to extend the growing season. Located next to the garden. It is heated with a small utility heater in the depths of winter, but only keeps the environment within about 20 degrees higher than the temps outside if there is no sun. This is enough to allow me to grow greens and herbs through December. It is enough to overwinter a lemon tree. It is where all the seeds started in the lean-to greenhouse go once they are transplanted into larger pots. This gives me an early start in the garden with good sized healthy happy plants. I also am able to grow very long season crops like turmeric, ginger, even Buddhas Hand! Since the hoophouse is large enough to walk into, I have a table and chair as a place to have my morning coffee.
    I love to share my farm life on my farm facebook page… so come visit the farm at Herbal Maid Farm . There is always something going on.

  • henry Trott says:

    This greenhouse helps, but am still in proccess of learning the ins and outs and getting the materials I need for the innovations I have in place. shadetech.wordpress.com/home

  • Jarinus says:

    we use upto 30 % charcoal in our vegetable beds. This charcoal is treated with EM and then used together with organical leftovers stamped in airtight plastic buckets and let it rest 6 weeks by around 20° C. This i mixe with earth 2 parts earth and one parth out of the beucket. It shlould smell sour.. You plant or seed direct in this layer about 14 days earlier and about 14 days longer. Also the quality of the organic production is far better.

  • Charles A. Pledge says:

    I grow in containers and cheat the weather so my season is 12 months and find I can not extend that. I have a 900 sq. ft, inside growing area and am adding 256 more sq. ft late winter. Plus, am adding about 800 sq ft. roof covered shed to protect from frost and may rough part of that in and add heat to get extra freeze time eliminated. On SS and am sole caregiver for my wife who is virtually bed fast. Must raise most of my food and sell a few organic veggies to make ends meet. Usually have blemish free produce. Noticeable blemishes go as culls for half price. Take pride in my produce. At 86 and farm reared, do lots of experimenting. Deliberately dried to death some tomatoes and now raising them from their roots which were damaged but not destroyed as the vines were. Happy gardening everyone. Soil therapy along with water therapy maintains a healthy and happy spirit.

  • Jessica says:

    Floating row covers. Let’s me start seeds earlier and prevent insect invasions. With care this featherweight stuff can be used again and again until it falls apart.

  • Celeste says:

    I actually have two: expedient greenhouses and growing diverse and rare crops from around the world and different time zones. It is amazing what one can grow here in the hostile Rockies! Packed in a tiny seed is the capability to overcome the harshest Climate Changes that weather can throw at us and produce an abundant harvest!

  • Dee says:

    Put a gutter heat tape in ground (looped back and forth and not touching itself), 40′ in a 5×8′ space, put a foot of compost, sand, etc over it, and build a low hoop house of 3/4″ thinwall pvc, rebar, and 6 mil clear roll plastic. Inside I hang two brooder lamps and add a 5 gallon pail full of water for humidity and bug trap. Heats the ground up for better starting and early growth. Learned to do this when raising competition pumpkins, can get 6-8 weeks head start minimum. Also add a windbreak to prevailing winds (steel fenceposts, calf panels and cheap tarps). Grown some beautiful cauliflower and broccoli this way….

  • mary says:

    Wonderful shares. However locations would be helpful along with altitudes ?
    Thank you to all, thank you Marjory

  • Mary says:

    I live in the Central Texas area. I choose cold hardy plants and cover them with fabric row covers with hoops made from PVC piping. I remember my Mom cutting off the tomato plants before the first freeze of the season and hanging them in the garage so the green ones could mature to a rich ripe red. This extended our tomato season by a month or so.

    1. Martha says:

      My mother-in-law used to wrap all her late season green tomatoes in news paper and store them in the garage. We would get ripe tomatoes until Christmas.

  • Marianne Cicala says:

    We extend by building multiple tiered beds. It naturally creates a variety of zones aka morning sun with afternoon shade which keeps the soil cooler & more moist thus allowing cole crops to grow longer into the summer season & fall crops can be planted earlier. The opposing portion of these beds provide hot afternoon sun which allows summer crops to be planted earlier and last longer into the fall season.

  • Lisa says:

    I just started growing other vegetables besides tomatoes in 2016. Not know any better I started carrots and radishes indoors and they did rather well. 2017 was not a good crop season even though I did crop rotation. This year on plan on planting only what are going to eat.

  • Bunkey says:

    Tobermory Canada up in the Great Lakes.
    No dig Eden Garden,
    I let most of my plants self seed, volunteers always do better than ones I plant.
    After nearly 7 months of frozen ground my last years kale springs up to regrow to set seed. This fresh green is very welcome on my plate, as is the dandy lion early on when the ground is barren.
    I plant my garlic and potatoes under the mulch in the fall, making sure they are well covered. What joy, as they pop up as soon as the soil is warm enough for them in spring. I never have to break my back digging for potatoes, as long as the mulch excludes the light and frost they are happy and productive!
    These things may not extend the season but they allow me time to attend to other plants that can’t thrive with this kind of neglect.
    Keep up the good work Marjorie

  • Bonnie Krause-Gams says:

    First you need to move this comment space to the top of the page.
    I start many of my cold crops outside in January (Wisconsin) in milk jugs. By early spring I have many plants that like the cold ready to go into the ground. I also plant onion seeds in the late fall and I then have a very early crop of onions in the spring. July planting of seeds that like cool fall weather gives a second garden. Thanks for all you do.

  • Alice Lewis says:

    I use floating row covers. But not by themselves. I have found that the tops of my beet leaves that touch the “remay” have frozen where they touched. So now I am building low grow cages. I bought 2″ x4″ fencing and cut that the length of my bed, bent the edges 4 inches up all around. I planted my kale seedlings into my garden bed, covered it with my grow cage and covered the whole thing with floating row cover. This is January. Our night time temperature here in Az gets down to freezing. But my plants look happy underneath that. By the time they will have grown enough to touch the top of the floating row cover we ought to be frost free.

  • Wayne Lyford says:

    Move to Florida!!!!!

  • Andrew Foot says:

    I am 76 years old. My wife and I are not interested in growing vegges. Maybe years ago, but not now. So most of this info is not applicable for me. Andy

  • Kevin Then says:

    I raise some hot pepper plants in 14″ pots and put them out on the deck in the spring when it gets warm enough. Once the temps drop into the 50’s, I move them back indoors. This results in earlier pepper crops in the spring and some in the house during winter. The red and green peppers almost look like ornaments on miniature trees at Christmas time. In the past, I did this with Serrano Peppers. This year I added a couple of jalapeño plants. Many northern gardeners don’t realize that peppers are actually perennials, not annuals.

  • Janene Hale McMorris says:

    We live in the Phoenix, AZ. area. We plant our above ground garden beds in the fall, late September to early October. When the weather falls below 50 degrees, we make a frame of PCV pipe & cover with 6mm plastic. We also put lights in the beds, hanging from the frame, to keep our plants warm. I harvest in mid to late December. I leave the broccoli, cabbage & lettuce plants in, as they will produce more, usually until March or April, then it gets too hot here, I am leaving a couple of my cauliflower plants in to see if they will also produce more. We will see in a couple of weeks if they get sprouts on them.

  • LaDeane Cobabe says:

    I live in a Phoenix suburb and also plant in September. Today is Jan. 13, and this morning I harvested tomatoes, carrots, and beats and peppers. My tomatoes (Roma) didn’t get very big but are delicious. Last week we had broccoli and Kale. When I plant in the ground I dig a trench and plant as well as water in the trench. Seems to save on water especially because Sept. and even Oct. can be hot. My cabbage in planter boxes with planter mix, are half the size of the cabbage in the dirt. I haven’t figured out the best organic food for the planter boxes yet. My friends up north are complaining about the snow and I’m making salsa, all from my garden.

  • Annette Talking Wing Kennedy says:

    Choosing cultivars that withstand a bit more cold.

  • Ted says:

    Building a low tunnel in the fall, here in NE Ohio.

  • Dawn says:

    I grow my annual herbs and chili peppers in pots. I take them inside for the winter and put them back outside when the weather warms up. I may lose a few plants but this system always gives me a head start with my herbs, and especially the tropical chili peppers that take a long time to bear fruit.

  • Steve says:

    I live in zone 9a, gulf coast Mississippi. Very different and more challenging growing conditions than most of you. Although I can grow food year round. In the case of tomatoes, there is a very small window where we’re still not getting random cold snaps in late winter and the heat and humidity don’t overwhelm and stress the plants. So I plant my seeds in early January in the greenhouse and transplant in March. I keep a little space heater in there for those random cold smaps, which this year are not random but persistent. Stupid cold this year. If I’m lucky I’ll get a good 6-8 weeks of strong production before the heat and pests get the better of them. If I had started seeds in February or later I would get very little if any tomatoes because it would be sweltering by the time they’re ready to produce.

  • Sharon McClain says:

    We live in NE Georgia on a 1 acre lot in the country and love growing and sharing all my home-grown goodies with our children and grands. I have a greenhouse that I use for overwintering some things and starting my seedlings in the Spring. I plant a fall crop of broccoli, cabbage, lettuces, spinach and cauliflower in mid-late August, and I use a portable cold frame/cover for a couple of my raised beds in case of severe cold weather (like this year). Our 1 acre is enough to provide for my family and then some. I’ll never get too old to learn and/or to teach. I’m striving to teach the next generation and encourage them to grow their own heirloom goodness. Love your Grow network and pass on the link to all who will listen.

  • Ray M says:

    North central Montana here… I have tomatoes and peppers alive in December outside covered in plastic and I put the big Christmas lights under there..keeps them warm and the produce ripens normally. You wont get anything new unless you hand pollinate.Seems all my plants are loaded with produce right around the first cold snap..Which is early September

  • Vikki Blalock says:

    We are in northeast Alabama between Birmingham and Atlanta with normally about a month of temps in the teens at night and 20’s and 30’s during the day. The humidity is generally high, giving the cold weather an extra umph. We have gone to raised beds and use medium hoop enclosures with homemade tomato cages that we just open up a bit and stick into the ground, and covering with a thick gauge roll plastic. This keeps the cabbage and other green cole crops happy throughout the harsh time.

    1. Terri says:

      We live in northeast Ohio, where the first frost can come in October or November. I do most of my gardening in my “garden house.” My husband built a wire-enclosed raised bed that gives me about 150 square feet of room. It’s great because no ground hogs, squirrels, birds, and most importantly, my chickens can’t get inside unless I open the door and let them in! In mid-fall, I wrap the whole exterior in sheets of bubble wrap and it’s very close to having a greenhouse! But at a fraction of the price. Works great well into December.

  • John says:

    agrabond row cover for both ends of the season / wall of water for early tomatoes/plastic covered low tunnels for fall/winter all have their place , Plan to construct movable wood framed plastic covered mini greenhouses over winter to use as high cold frames . The cold frames I had finally fell apart they offered the most protection however many plants outgrew
    them for headroom I hope mini greenhouses will perform as well

  • Jan says:

    Living in Illinois I use garden fabric- I can reuse it too.

  • Carol says:

    I use raked leaves as mulch on our raised beds in late fall/early winter. Also put evergreen branches from holiday trimming, as available. This is in SW Ohio, and we grow garlic for family consumption. I also allow a couple of dandelions to seed in the beds because I eat them in early spring and make tea from the roots. Also let basil, carrots, and calendula go to seed. Not the best organization, I know! lol This past year I stared an experiment with artichokes. Purple romagna and globe imperial. Two of the plants are now in the beds covered with leaves, a cardboard box, more leaves, and a waterproof tarp. No idea if they survived our extended below-zero temperatures this month. We did have a couple of inches of snow cover before the cold snap. Two others are in the garage in pots, not dead as far as I can tell. We’ll see!

  • Dale Hardy says:

    I live in central Indiana where the conventional wisdom says to start plants inside in late April or early May. I however start them in larger pots in mid March in a sunnier back room of our home with a grow light. When the time comes to transplant them, after making sure the soil is warm enough I move them outside. I do this with tomatoes, some pepper plants and various herbs and spices. I’m going to try jasmine and a few other plants this year.

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