How to Extend Your Growing Season—Inexpensively

How To Extend Your Growing Season—Inexpensively
The day before Thanksgiving I harvested the last of the broccoli I planted this year. It was beautiful. The heads were so tight and green and there was not a single worm. I love fall gardening much better than the hot summertime. But you’re probably wondering what I can grow in the cooler temperatures.

Well, right now I still have cabbages, beets, and Swiss chard in the garden. And I aim to plant a few more things this week—even though a cold front is moving in as I type. Let me explain.

Several years ago, my boys made me some wire hoops to put over the garden rows. They are cut and shaped from the thick, high-tensile fencing that you use to brace corner posts in the field. In the summer I use them to suspend my floating row covers that provide shade and insect protection. When we were hit with a snow storm in early October, I used them to cover my rows with plastic sheeting. I kept this make-shift tunnel up for a few weeks because the clear plastic allowed the sun to shine through, warming the plants; and it protected them at night from frost. And that leads me to the first way to extend your growing season.


Cathy Heidenreich, Berry Extension Support Specialist of Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture, says that tunnels lengthen your growing season more economically than using greenhouses. Andy McAllister of Fortiter Farms in Pennsylvania produces vegetables 11 months out of the year by using low tunnels. At the Mother Earth News Fair this summer, McAllister shared his economical design for creating low tunnels.

Cut 10-12 inch lengths of 1 ½ inch PVC pipe. Drive them in the ground on either side of your row about 3 feet apart. How many you will need depends on how long your row is. Then insert full lengths of 1-inch PVC into the pieces in the ground to form an arch. Once you have your ribs erected, cover them with 3-6 mil plastic sheeting. You can purchase this from the concrete department of your local home-improvement superstore.

Tunnels made this way will be about waist high—depending on how wide your row is and how long your ribs are. Of course using tunnels requires you to monitor the temperature and moisture in the tunnel and to vent and water accordingly.

Cold Frames

Historically, cold frames were small, unheated additions to greenhouses. Currently, any serious gardener will have at least one cold frame on their place to serve a variety of needs—from growing greens in the cold weather to hardening off seedlings that were started indoors. But building a cold frame need not be a huge expense. Here are a few ideas to get you going on the cheap.

Save old windows—If you have a source, save any old window that you can use for the top of the frame. If not, you can use heavy plastic temporarily; although you will lose more heat at night with the plastic.

Scrap lumber—You do not need to go purchase expensive lumber to build your cold frame. Since any size frame will do, you can use scrap lumber from a local construction site or that acquired from your friend the building contractor.

Straw bales—If you cannot locate any scrap lumber, you can use straw bales. Place your straw bales in a square or rectangle, lay your discarded window sash on top, and you have a cold frame for less. At the change of seasons, remove the glass and use the straw bale bin for your compost.

Be creative—My son salvaged a couple sets of shower doors from a remodeling job. Using the height and slant dimensions from The 12-Month Gardener by Jeff Ashton, I asked my husband and another son to build a cold frame using the shower door as the glass top. When trying to save money in the garden, it is always a good idea to ask yourself, “What do I have in my hand?”


Another way to protect your plants from frost is to cover them individually, rather than as a row. Operating like a tiny greenhouse, the cloche is a bell shaped cover that sits over each plant to keep it warm. According to Ashton, the first glass cloches were used in Italy in 1623. You can spend a lot of money on some handsome-looking cloches for your garden. Or you can use an overturned gallon milk jug, a lamp shade frame or tomato cage covered in plastic, or for tiny plants, an overturned glass bowl.

This is December and we are still having very mild temperatures in the mid-east coast region of the country. If you implement one of these methods, there is still time to get out there and start a patch of greens.


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