Extending the Garden Season
The last frost in the Spring and the first in the Fall set the limit for many garden crops, but there are many ways to extend the season and get better growth. Simple strategies such as protecting plants with a thin layer of fabric or plastic, deciding where you place a plant, and then selecting the right varieties can make the difference between a plant freezing out or thriving. By growing varieties that store well it’s possible to enjoy homegrown produce throughout the winter.
A floating row cover is a lightweight, semi-transparent fabric used to cover garden plants. The lightest fabrics can be laid directly over the garden bed and/or crop without any support and provide a few degrees of frost protection. Slightly heavier fabrics can be supported by wire hoops and provide up to 8 degrees of frost protection. Use 10 gauge hardened galvanized wire cut to 36 inch lengths and bent into an arc, and place them in the soil at 3 to 4 foot intervals. Weigh the edges down with soil, rocks, fence posts, or whatever you have to keep them from blowing away. Row cover has the additional benefit of keeping pests away, such as cabbage worms, tomato hornworms, flea beetles and quail. Be careful with row cover in heavy rain or snow as it can flatten and crush the plants
A cold frame is a simple structure for raising seedlings, which is low to the ground, with a glass or plastic top, and back and sides made of wood or straw bales. Building a Cold Frame is a great pamphlet by Karen Wortman of Hidden Springs Farms that walks you through the process.
Most greenhouses in our area are actually just walk-in tunnels; a metal hoop house covered with UV resistant greenhouse plastic. A greenhouse is a tremendous way to extend the season, providing a place to start seeds in flats and containers as well as garden beds for overwintering greens, salads, cold-hardy citrus and even avocados.
Cold Hardy Citrus
Selecting cold hardy varieties of subtropical fruits is another way to extend the season. Citrus trees produce in the winter months when fresh fruit is in low supply, and there are many cold hardy varieties suited to our region. Depending on your microclimate you may need to plant them in a greenhouse or under the eave of a south facing wall, and/ or be willing to cover them during a cold snap. Here’s a list of cold hardy citrus and the low end of temperatures they tolerate: Kumquat, 18 degrees ; Meyer Lemon, 18 degrees F, Satsuma Mandarin, 15 – 18 degrees F, Ichang Lemon, zero degrees F(!), There are also several varieties of cold hardy avocado, including Brazos Belle, Lila, Topa Topa, Mexicola, Joey, Ganter and Fantastic. Cold tolerance ranges from 25 all the way down to 10 degrees. Rolling River Nursery is an excellent local source for all of these varieties.
Storing Fruits and Vegetables
There are many fruit and vegetable varieties that can be stored for fresh produce through the winter. Root crops can be sown in late summer and left in the ground all winter. Sow carrots in early and late July; sow beets, rutabaga, turnips and parsnips in mid August. Winter squash and potatoes will keep for months in a cool, dry, dark place. Fresh fruit is the best source of vitamin C to combat flue season. Varieties of late season fruits that store well, include kiwis, pineapple guavas, persimmons, and apples. Storage apple varieties that do well in our region include Arkansas Black, Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, Hauer, Newtown Pippin, Pink Lady, Spitzenburg, and Waltana.