Extending the growing season

Anyone here live up north where the weather will not allow you to garden year round without modifications? I have recently been looking into season extending methods and wondered if anyone here has any advice, tips, or methods that they successfully use to grow crops when the weather says you shouldn't be able to? My husband and I have recently built a cold frame garden bed that we intend to fit with a windowed top to try extending our season, but I will admit that I have no experience using cold frames, so any advice to that in particular would be most welcome :) We are in Ohio, zone 5.


  • circleoflifeunlimited
    circleoflifeunlimited Posts: 57 ✭✭✭

    "Four Season Harvest" by Elliot Coleman explains all of this very well. I have followed his advice here in the Southern Rockie Mountains at 7500 ft, and also years ago in NW Montana. His expertise is right on. There is a lot you can do in zone 5 with both cold frames and unheated hoop houses. It is time to plant hardy winter greens NOW. I do this in the shade, as Elliot suggests. First of October I will take the tomato plants out of the unheated hoop house and plant my little greens that were sown in August.

    Also, Johnny Seeds lists greens that are more cold hardy. Pay attention to that, it will help.

    Good luck!

  • Foodgardenguy
    Foodgardenguy Posts: 106 ✭✭✭

    @chimboodle04 Yes a cold frame is good, but you also need to make sure that on warmer days, you make sure to have a way to lift the top a little for some cooler air to flow through. The sun through glass can produce a lot of heat.

  • Sandy Forest
    Sandy Forest Posts: 28 ✭✭✭

    You sound like an experienced gardener, so you probably know already which of your crops is durable enough to survive pretty well unprotected throug a Z-5 winter. We are in Z-3b No. WI. We are, or have been until now blessed to be just outside the lake effect snowbelt for Lake Superior. We too have read through Elliot Coleman's writings but don't have terrain that lends itself to his exact methodology. His advice abuot a well sealed hardware cloth barrier has been indispensable. What has always worked for us when trying something new is to plant a good selection of winter tough greens, something like perennial kale that will take extremes quite well if given a little protection, and a few fun but more tender greens just to see what the range of tolerances are. Some of what you plant may not make it to Spring, but will liven up meals for enough time to include them. One of the early mistakes we made is siting our cold frame in our garden where we have the best sun exposure, but a trek that has gotten more and more arduous to shovel since we have begun to get much more snow in the last couple of years. In comparison, keeping the snow shoveled off the frame is not so hard! Also covering the sides and top of the frame with straw bales in extreme cold is a good idea, but shoveling it off after a couple of days of heavy snow might get interesting unless yo u plan lots of open space around the frame. Until I had the cold frame I relied on heavy straw mulch and have some confidence that retaining a little air circulation is more important than completely sealing out cold air, even down to -35F, particularly when you know you will have wet spring conditions. Winter out here is always an adventure. It is great to have greens to look forward to as well!

  • chimboodle04
    chimboodle04 Posts: 286 ✭✭✭

    @Foodgardenguy Thanks :) I figured it wold need to be vented on some days - what I don't know is what temps would be considered high enough to vent? We are not home during the day so this is something we would need to take care of in the morning hours - couldn't just run out there if it was looking sunny... Any advice?

    @Sandy We do have a good selection of crop seeds specifically chosen for hardier temps :) I will need to check into Coleman's advice and techniques, thanks! I do have a similar question for you as above about temps though - what temp do you start to winterize and surround with straw bales? Do you add any layers on the top part at that time? What temp do you feel the need for additional protection on top or sides is necessary? I know experience in our own climate here will be the key teacher - just looking for any expertise to help us get a bit further into the winter season! Thanks for your advice :)

  • Foodgardenguy
    Foodgardenguy Posts: 106 ✭✭✭
    edited September 2019

    Hi @chimboodle04 It's only on those warmer days...what I mean by this is outside having temperatures above 0 degrees C. Just check the local weather station for the next few days. Sometimes in mid-winter, we get a warm spell. You just need to open the cold frame a little, and not have to worry about it.

    Nevertheless, you may have to double check your specific situation, as your area may have more direct sunlight, more or less winds, your cold frame being different...etc.

    What we are finding is that it is those roots that need to be kept from freezing. We noticed to our amazement that even the Swiss chard survives the winter (-20 C) if there is a lot of snow cover on the ground and without any cold frame or windbreak, and then when spring comes, the Swiss chard just keeps on growing.

  • illbtru
    illbtru Posts: 7 ✭✭✭

    Using floating row cover and grey electrical PVC one can extend the season in the spring and in the fall. The row cover will keep the radiant cold from burning or killing a desired crop without creating too much heat. It is easy to do with minimal effort. One can extend the growing season on the front end (spring) and the back end (fall), creating an additional zone.

    I am in zone 6. By using row covers, I have in essence changed to zone 7.

    BTW, I use grey electrical PVC because it is ultra violet resistant and will last many years. The floating row cover may be purchased online. To make it easier I use 18 inch pieces of 3/8 inch rebar and place the PVC on the rebar.

  • montanagrh
    montanagrh Posts: 3 ✭✭✭

    The best way I've found to keep ventilation while gone is an automatic vent opener. They have a heat sensor built in that regulates it throughout the day. I've found them at garden supply stores or Amazon:)

  • probinson50
    probinson50 Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    I have found that row covers on established plants works pretty well to extend the season. I also look for cold hardy varieties to plant in the fall. I love the Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman for ideas to extend the season. I have noted that with some plants, just keeping them warmer wasn't working because they needed the longer daylight hours of summer.

  • chimboodle04
    chimboodle04 Posts: 286 ✭✭✭

    @probinson50 interesting about the hours of daylight - obvious when you said it, but something I had not even considered! Thank you :) If you don't mind me asking, which varieties did you try that didn't work out?

  • 7207chablis
    7207chablis Posts: 46 ✭✭✭

    This year I am trying something new : I grew my tomatoes in big pots outside during summer

    that I have now entered in my house before it freezes. I am curious to see if my tomatoes will continue to produce!

  • chimboodle04
    chimboodle04 Posts: 286 ✭✭✭

    @7207chablis My husband is trying something similar with our hot peppers - Not expecting ours to keep producing (but wouldn't that be a nice surprise!) - seeing if they can survive until next year and maybe we will get a bigger harvest off of year old plants??? You still have quite a few on there - looks great!

  • Leediafastje
    Leediafastje Posts: 97 ✭✭✭

    I'm in the Olympic Mtns in W.Washington (zone 8). No where near the cold most of you get each year but, I wanted to share what we do to grow lettuce all year around. We found that a $19.99 indoor greenhouse, placed in front of a large window, keeps us in lettuce throughout the winter. Butter Crunch lettuce grows very well. And, before the lettuce gets started the same greenhouse is used to rippen tomatoes once the cold weather sets in.