At Home Season Extension: How to Keep Your Backyard Garden Growing Into the Fall

It’s that time of year again; the days are getting shorter, the nights are colder and the mornings are frosty. Things in the garden are dying back, maybe some of your more cold hardy crops are still hanging on but for the most part the outdoor growing season is over. As you drive by the university you may gaze longingly at the high-tunnels and greenhouses you pass on the road, wondering, “is there some way that I can extend the growing season in my backyard without one of these big, expensive high-tunnels?”

Well as a matter of fact there is! There are a number of ways that anyone can construct a low-cost, season extending structures in their backyard. Here at Farm to YoUNH we are very lucky to have access to our two high-tunnels, one of which is heated, that allow us to grow food all through the winter; so we wanted to publish a guide on how you at home can continue growing some crops into and over the winter without a hi-tech, expensive structure.

Ways to extend the growing season:

One of the easiest ways to help a garden grow longer into the season is by making a cold frame. A cold frame is essentially an insulated bed usually made of hay or straw bales and covered with plastic or glass. The beauty of the cold frame is that they are both easy and inexpensive to construct. You can use materials that you have lying around in your backyard, or with things that you can buy at a hardware store. The first step to a cold frame is to outline your beds with straw or hay bales; both are excellent insulators and can be cheaply purchased from local farms. Once your bed is framed by the bales, you can add
plastic or glass over the top and secure it to the bales. Cold frames are extremely simple to construct and maintain and provide a warm enough environment to keep your plants alive longer into the fall, and protect them from frost damage.

Another easy way to protect your crops that are already planted in the ground is to make a low tunnel over them. A low tunnel is just a series of hoops, usually of pvc pipe over a section of rebar, over the crop, and then cover with either plastic or a fabric covering like Re-may. Covering the hoops with fabric will protect the crops from frost damage, but will not have much of an effect on the temperature inside the tunnel. Covering with plastic will help to actually raise the temperature and relative humidity around the plant, which will encourage more growth as well as protecting the crops from frost at night. Low tunnels are ideal to keep your lettuce or spinach growing well into the fall, but the height of the tunnels can be adjusted to fit over any crop.

Benefits of At-Home Season Extension:

So is it worth your time as a backyard gardener to build some type of season extension structure over your garden? Of course it is! All of these structures are very easy and cheap to build, making it a great option for anyone to do at home on any budget. Extending the season of your garden has many benefits as well. The earlier in the season you build a season extension structure, the later into the season you can plant for a late fall or early winter harvest, and you can give your already planted crops a late season boost that will have you harvesting your own produce well into the winter. As the season progresses, the plants require less water and fertilizer, weed pressure will be minimal if not completely nonexistent making maintenance a breeze. Once you have built the structures, they can be used in the spring to give yourself an early start to the garden as well; and they are easy to break down, put away or recycle the materials and then rebuild at the end of the summer. Season extension is an easy way for anyone, farmer or backyard gardener, to keep the garden growing well into the winter, you don’t have to have a big fancy high tunnel to reap the benefits of season extension technology.

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