As we enter the fall season, a timely topic to discuss is how to grow food in the cooler months. Season extension is important in Canada where the spring and autumn weather can be less predictable. To maximize our harvests, we need to grow for as long as possible. While this topic is huge in itself, here are a few ideas on how to extend your growing season:
- Start some of your new seeds indoors. While a lot of mature cool crops can easily withstand light frosts, their seedlings are much slower to grow when it’s cold outside. You can get around this by sowing some of your new seeds indoors to quicken the initial growth process. This allows you to grow outdoors and indoors simultaneously by starting some seeds indoors for the first 4-6 weeks and then transplanting partially-grown seedlings outdoors as space opens up. It also extends the growing season by shortening the outdoor timelines of plants and by only having mature plants (ones that can handle the cooler weather) in your garden. Using this method, you can continue to grow select vegetables into November and December. Our picks include lettuce, kale, chard, mache, spinach, and collards.
- Use row cover or cold frames to protect your crops from any risk of frost in autumn. A transparent cover can protect your vegetables from the cold weather while still allowing enough sunlight and, in some cases, rainfall. This can be in the form of row cover fabric placed atop hoops in your bed or plastic stapled to wooden frames (‘cold frames’) and placed over your plants. Of course, some of the sunlight energy is blocked so use part-shade plants (such as lettuce, chard, baby kale, mache, carrots and beets) when growing under row covers.
- Try not to leave the soil bare during the cooler months. Use mulch (wood chips, straw or black landscape fabric) beside/beneath your vegetable plants to hold the heat and reduce any freezing of water in the soil on really cold days.
- Most importantly, plan for and plant only cool crops in advance of (and during) autumn. In particular, plan ahead so that your plants’ hardiness fits with the expected temperatures when your plants are mature and producing – not just at the time of planting.
I should stress that last point. For planting at this time of year, focus on cool, fast-growing crops such as lettuce, spinach, radish and mache as these will still germinate quickly during cooler October nights. Also, these crops will continue to produce for as long as we don’t see a hard frost – if one is forecasted, harvest your veggies aggressively in advance or consider adding row cover or cold frames as mentioned above.