If you want to jump-start your garden, try starting your own seeds.
Don t think you must extend the season to be an accomplished gardener. Sometimes its just as good to sit back, relax, and "go dormant" for a while. Instead of gardening you could be satisfied and save time and work.
Its your decision. But if you think its time to trick nature into feeding you year-round, then read on! The rest of the chapter will explain what to do each season to extend your harvest from cool-weather and warm-weather plants.
The obvious way to extend the garden year is to start earlier than usual and to keep the plants growing later. Cool-weather crops can be grown in two extra plantings for a longer season. The first planting is made in the early spring and will mature in the cool weather of late spring. The second crop of cool-weather plants can be planted in late summer to mature in the late fall.
Since early spring and late fall can bring some rather severe weather, growing out of season is simply keeping the cold temperatures away from your plants. To do this, its important to provide these crops with the extra protection they need from the elements. By covering and protecting your crops, you are basically creating an artificial environment. After all, that is what a greenhouse does—it keeps the cold air out but lets the sunlight in. What more could a plant want?
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In addition, all of the summer or hot-weather crops can be started two to three weeks earlier than normal and they, too, can be extended up to a month beyond their normal season in the fall. Then, an extra planting of lettuce, spinach, and radishes can be grown during the hot summer months that are normally considered out of season for these two crops. Sound like a lot of work? With Square Foot Gardening, its easier than you think. It all depends on you providing protection from the sudden and harsh temperatures and weather.
Box or Cage
Since a Square Foot Garden takes up so little space, it to protect your crops.
While special techniques that provide extra protection may vary with the season and the variety of vegetable, they are quickly learned and easily practiced. Chapter 4 explains how to build a special box and the various kinds of protective cages. These structures make it possible to moderate the climate in that box so you can stretch your growing season at both ends.
Early Spring is relatively easy
A great time to extend the growing season is early spring before anyone else is out gardening. Begin by warming up the soil in your SFG boxes. Spread clear or black plastic over the top of the soil, and weigh it down with a brick in each corner. After a couple of sunny days, take the cover off, lift the grid out, and mix up the soil with a trowel so the warmer surface soil is moved down below and the colder, deeper soils are raised to the top. Then replace the plastic covers. This is no big deal since your Mels Mix is loose and friable at all times of the year. Besides, the soil is only 6 inches deep. How much work could that be?
SCIENCE PROJECT yj If you want to be really scientific, ' get a thermometer to measure the soil temperature at the surface, but be sure to cover the thermometer so the sun doesn't shine directly on it. Also take the temperature of the soil at a depth of 2 inches. Then measure and record the same information in a 4x4 that has been covered with black or clear plastic. Use the charts in this book to find how long it takes seeds to sprout at certain temperatures. Plot all that information, and then use the charts to compare the quicker seed sprouting time. Not only is this a fun project for the kids, it will enable you to get an earlier, more successful start on your garden.
If you want to get a quicker start and earlier growth, try sprouting your seeds indoors, and then transplanting them into individual containers when they are very young. Before the plants get too large, harden them off before planting them outdoors in your winter box.
For your first spring planting, set up a cold frame with a storm window cover or the PVC type structure over any garden square where you 11 be planting an early crop so the sun will start warming the soil. Do this about four weeks before its time to plant your seeds. For a double-quick soil warm-up, cover the soil with clear or black plastic, and then remove it before planting. Or you can use plastic covered cages over individual squares around the garden instead of the entire 4x4-foot area. When the weather is warm enough, transplant the plants you've grown into the open garden squares. They can also be left to grow where they were planted by removing the protective cage from the squares.
You must check your spring plant boxes every day in sunny weather. If your plants begin to wilt or if the soil dries to a depth of 1 inch, it's time to water. Water with a cup of sun-warmed water.
When youre using a cold frame on your early crops, remember that fresh air has to get in and you have to vent out the hot air that builds up on sunny days even in cold or freezing weather.
Heat builds up quickly in the boxes on sunny days. As the weather warms up, slide or lift the cover open a little farther each week until you can remove it entirely. (Don t try to prop up a glass storm window with sticks; believe me, the wind will blow it down whenever you're not around.) A light frost wont hurt most cool-weather crops, but too much heat will cook them. It takes a little experience to learn how to control the heat and moisture inside your frame. Keep in mind these precautions when trying to grow out of season.
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In addition to lettuce and radishes, you might also try growing spinach or even cabbage out of season into the early summer. Spring crops can be grown from seeds or from transplants started indoors a few weeks ahead of time. When choosing varieties of cool-weather crops to grow into summer, look for words like "long standing," "slow to bolt," and "heat resistant" in the seed catalogs or packet descriptions.
As the spring season progresses, its time to give some summer vegetables—such as beans, squash, and cucumbers—a head start. For earlier harvests, try starting the seeds for these warm-weather crops right in their permanent location under a protective cage two weeks before the usual planting time. They will be much hardier and stronger than seedlings grown on the windowsill. When all danger of frost is past, remove the covers.
There is an entire industry with all kinds of protective devices and products to help the gardener be successful in early gardening. They vary from water-filled walls around the plant to special ground covers designed to heat up the soil quicker, fry some of these products and see what happens. I always like to place an unprotected plant right next to the protected one for comparison.
Ifyoure the type of person who doesn't like hot, sticky weather, and you literally wilt in the sun, then the obvious solution is to move into the shade with a large pitcher of your favorite cold drink. Well, lettuce and radishes are no different. If you can provide shade for these spring crops (especially during the noon sun), along with some extra water, you will be able to harvest throughout most of the summer. Look for special hot-weather varieties of your favorite plants in your seed catalog.
Cover the square with a shade cage, and give the plants plenty of water—as a general rule, water twice as often as you usually would. Remember, one of the best aids for growing a good crop is Mels Mix—our soil mix that combines equal parts peat moss, coarse
Did you ever notice that just when all of the good summer salad vegetables are ready-like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers-the lettuce and radishes are all gone? In the hot, long days of summer, these spring crops bolt and set seed, becoming bitter and unappetizing. However, there is a way to get around this and still "have your salad and eat it, too!"
vermiculite, and blended compost. It holds lots of moisture so the plant roots can take up all that's needed, yet drains well so the roots can't become waterlogged.
The shade cage will admit enough light for proper growth while keeping the temperature down considerably. A layer of thick mulch will also help moderate soil temperatures. You can also make use of natural shade or sun screens by locating a planting of spring crops behind (to the north of) your vertical growing frames.
Keep in mind that you're growing out of season, which means it is not the plants natural inclination to grow then. You are urging these plants on, so be generous with your help and attention and don t expect too much. Just enjoy the challenge and experience!
Summer Plants into Fall
Gardeners sometimes wonder whether the extra effort involved in protecting summer crops from the first fall frost is worth the effort. I think it certainly is, if you want an extra two or three weeks worth of harvest from all those warm-weather crops. Quite often the first frost is followed by a long period of clear, warm weather before the next frost. If you can protect your garden from that first frost, you can enjoy green plants and fresh vegetables during one of the most pleasant periods of the year—mid-autumn. Since most of these crops
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have a six to eight week harvest season, the extra two to three weeks gained amount to quite a bit—more than a 25 percent extension of the season.
To protect your crops from frost, you can start with a PVC arch or covered wagon frame, and then cover it with a large sheet of plastic, floating cover, or light blanket. Fasten down the corners so it won t blow off during the night. Or, the low-growing crops can be readily protected with a loose covering of hay that is easily removed the next morning.
To protect vine crops from frost, just throw a blanket or tarp over the vertical frame so its hanging down on all sides. This is one of the prime advantages of growing squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, pumpkins, and similar summer crops on a vertical frame.
When fall arrives, you and your garden have three options: to store food for the winter, extend the harvest, or stop your garden. Whichever you choose depends on your time and desire.
Lets look at the easiest, and least-known, way to extend the harvest—storing it. There's the old-fashioned but economical canning, preserving, and freezing for the future, and it has a place. But I think the most economical and environmentally correct way to extend the season is to store the harvest. There is almost no work and money involved, and the flavor and nutritional value of each vegetable is greater than if it was frozen or canned.
The only secret of successful storage is actually very simple—learn each vegetables best storage conditions and provide it. There are really only two: cool and dry, or cold and moist. The list of vegetables that need cool and dry conditions is easy to remember because there are only a few—pumpkins, winter squash, and onions. The temperature should be around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15.5 degrees Celsius), and the humidity needs to be fairly low—at about 50 percent.
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