Extending Your Garden Season: September Workshop 2015

What does "Season Extension" mean to you?

As Mike Nolan asked each group member we listened to responses and it emerged that 'Season Extension', through a variety of methods, is the quest to eat foods out of season

(Post Contents: Heat, Light, and Not Working TOO Hard)

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NOTE: Frost dates vary considerably from year to year. 
Check out CSU 
Extension for more info.

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Click image for frost possibility/growing season for SW Colorado

In Durango our growing season averages a little over 100 days, with the average last spring frost on June 1st and the average first fall frost coming in mid-September. So it's no wonder that we hunger for fresh greens from our gardens for a few more weeks each year.

And don't forget season extension can happen on either end of the season, growing earlier in the spring or growing later in the fall.

To successfully extend out season there are two main factors to plant growth that we need to think about:

  • Heat
  • Light

Heat
In the fall heat comes in to play with our cold nights and unpredictable frosts. 

Frost occurs at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, essentially water in the plants freezes and can burst or damage cells.

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Frost and Frost Damage at OKCG on September 22, 2013

So what's a gardener to do?
If we can keep the air around our plants even a few degrees warmer we can often protect our plants from a light frost.
Floating Row Cover is a great option.

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TIP: You plants will freeze on spots 
that touch 
the cover cloth when there 
is a frost
, hence "floating" row cover. 

Row_Cover_image_2.jpgIt is recommended to raise the cloth 
above the plants. You can use 9 gauge 
wire bent into hoops.
 

Floating Row Cover (also called cover cloth or Remay) is a woven plastic, it looks like a white sheet, that can be draped over your plants and traps heat radiating from the sun warmed soil to keep your plants warmer during the night. 

There are a few different thicknesses that will retain more or less heat (from about 3 degrees to 7 degrees above the outside air temperature). Note: The thicker the row cover the more heat it retains but also the less light penetrates. See the next section for info on why this is important.

TIP: If you can't get row cover, sheets and blankets work too!

In the spring, in addition to the danger of frosts, heat comes in to play with seed germination. If the soil isn't warm enough the seeds will just sit there. Place a thick layer of row cover over them to help increase and maintain the soil temperature. You can lay it right on the soil.

Light

TIP: Make sure in the spring to uncover your plants
in the warm day and
cover them back before dusk
to maximize the amount of sunlight your new 
plants
get. Leggy plants could indicate your plants aren't
getting enough sun.

We often over look this important factor, focusing just on the temperature. Less light means longer days to maturity. 

In the winter, while the days are so short, even if we can keep our plants above freezing they may not grow very much. Make sure to get your fall crops going early. Mike recommends using transplants (of cool hard crops: spinach, kale, collards, etc.), put them in in September at the latest.

Storage

Mike reminded us to work within the means of the land where we live, "don't fight it too hard...an easier way to season extend is to grow a storage garden."

Storage Crops include root vegetables like beets and carrots, onion, garlic, rutabaga, potatoes, and winter squash.

Most of these crops will be planted mid-summer, harvested well into the fall, and (if stored properly) eaten all winter long!

A few tips for storage crops:

  • Don't wash the produce before storing. It will wash away the vegetable protective coating and leave it more vulnerable to pathogens and rot. (NOTE: ALWAYS wash your produce before eating it to get rid of pathogens!)
  • Keep stored produce at a constant temperature. Heating and cooling cycles may bring a vegetable out of its sleeping state and think its time for spring (aka time to grow) which can ultimately cause it to rot or degrade.
         - Potatoes, Onions, Garlic, Winter Squash: Store at room temperature or about 50-60 degrees.
         - Cabbage, Carrots, Beets, Rutabaga, Kale: Store at 30 degrees.
  • Store produce dry and with some air flow. The vegetables are still alive! Keeping them at lower temperatures slows down their respiration but they still need air or they will go bad.
  • Some crops need to cure before storage. This is the case with garlic, onions, and potatoes.

Resources:

CSU Extension
     Average Frost Dates and Length of Growing Season
     Plant Growth Factors: Temperature
     Frost Protection and Extending the Growing Season
     Plant Growth Factors: Light

ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service)
     Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners


Workshop Presenter  

    

      Mike_Nolan_Pic.jpg         

 

Mike Nolan of Mountain Roots Produce in Mancos, CO has been farming at 7600 ft. since 2011. He was an apprentice at the University of Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems, farmered all over the U.S. for 11 years, and in recent years has taught classes for the local Colorado Master Gardener Program.

 


The last 2016 Ohana Kuelana Community Garden Workshop is Winterizing Your Garden 
on Monday, October 5th at 5:30pm.

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