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Questions & Answers

Extending the Growing Season

How do I get an early start in the spring, or keep the harvest going in the fall?

Vegetable crops are usually placed in one of two categories: cool season, or warm season, crops.  Early spring or late summer are cool season crops, and/or frost hardy crops, which will wilt or become bitter and hard in hot weather. Examples of cool season crops include peas, leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, beets and radishes.  Some of these crops, such as kale, are frost hardy, meaning that they can take an early or late frost without dying, and actually become sweeter tasting as cold weather sets in. Many nurseries have supplies of vegetable cultivars and seeds that do well in our area and are able to make good recommendations for your needs. 

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get a head start on the season.  Seed packets begin showing up in stores in late December or early January, or you can order online from various seed companies anytime.

To start early in the garden, place a clear plastic tarp over the plot. This creates a mini greenhouse effect because it lets the warmth of the sun in while providing some protection from the cooler elements such as wind and temperature. This warms up the soil which is what you need to begin seeding or transplanting early.  It is important to follow the seed recommendations on the packet as some vegetables do better with direct seeding into the garden, and others from starting seeds indoors, and transplanting into the garden at a later date. 

A similar idea is to use row covers to protect plants from insect pests, and to speed up plant growth early and late in the season.  Learn more about row covers for late season growing and the different types of covers.

To continue the garden late into the fall, plant cold or frost resistant crops in late August/early September.  Frost resistant crops are crops that can survive a light frost (which occurs around October 15-20 in our area).  These crops include root crops such as radishes, carrots, parsnips, and turnips; leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and mesclun (mix of young greens); or members of the cabbage family such as kale, broccoli and cabbage. Make sure you choose crops you can eat and not the ornamentals which show up in the fall as well.  You also want to check maturity dates because you want this date to be before the first hard, or killing, frost which is around November 15. Choosing plant cultivars with a quick maturity date will give you the best harvest.  Learn more about fall gardening here.

You can also plant a crop to overwinter in your plot. Examples of overwintering crops include onions, garlic, and carrots which can be planted in fall, and harvested in the spring or summer.  Be sure to add plenty of amendments and nutrients as you plant each new crop, and cover with 3-6 inches of mulch.