No matter where you live, there are crops and gardening techniques that allow you to enjoy homegrown produce year round. Sure you can go to just about any supermarket, even in the dead of winter and buy all sorts of vegetables, but they won’t be as good as what comes right out of your own garden. Being more self reliant, independent, and living more sustainably also means trying to grow as much food as we can, all year long. Here are some season extending ideas, as well as a discussion on which crops do well when days get short and temperatures dip low.
One simple technique for extending the season is the use of floating row covers. At the beginning of your growing season as well as at the end, covers made of very thin lightweight fabric will protect your crops from cool weather damage, while still allowing 90% of sunlight to reach the plants. This will add about two weeks of growing time at either end of the season and it is an affordable solution.
No matter where you live, succession planting is also really smart. If you plant all your beans at the same time, they will all mature at the same time. This is perfectly okay if you plan on canning most of your harvest, but if you want to eat your beans right after picking, it is best to spread out your harvest. New beans, greens, veggies, etc will mature with each week, making sure you have a steady harvest all summer long and even into fall. With beans, carrots, lettuce, peas, etc. sow your seeds about a week apart from early spring to the beginning of July, and you will enjoying fresh produce well after summer has ended.
We always plant what we like to eat, but you should also consider what varieties do well in your particular area. Leeks and brussels sprouts for instance, take a very long time to grow, but do really well in cooler climates because they actually sweeten a bit after enduring a late fall frost. Planting brussels in late summer means a yummy harvest for Thanksgiving and even Christmas. Carrots and potatoes can remain in the ground for months after maturity and harvested while the ground is still workable. There are broccoli, lettuce and pea varieties that can be sown in mid summer for harvest in late fall. If frost or snow is a concern it is time to look into cold frames, a greenhouse, or grow hoops using supports and plastic covers. Supports and cover plastic can fit over your existing garden beds.
Finally, preserve your harvest. Freezing vegetables is easy to do and allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor throughout the year. Grow some herbs and they can be dried and saved for years. Learn about canning. While you may not have the time or space to grow a variety of fruit, canning peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, etc. from a local farmers market will supply you with healthy produce all year long.
You would be surprised at how long gardens will be produce, well into the fall and even early winter. Some plants are delicate while others can be pretty tough! Get those fall peas and lettuces going. Plant some garlic and shallots in November for next summer’s harvest and watch leeks really thrive as the temperatures drop!
I recommend picking up a copy of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. I absolutely lover her books and this one is especially awesome. She lives in Canada where she endures some of the harshest winters around and yet she grows food all year long. This book gives you an excellent step by step overview of how she does it and what she grows. It teaches you how to get a jump on spring, harvest warm weather crops well before you would normally, succession planting into fall, and harvesting throughout winter.