Plan Ahead in Summer for Fall and Winter Harvests

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Winter seems far away now, but if you want to enjoy a bounty of homegrown vegetables this autumn and winter, it's time to begin planning. For a successful cold-season garden, you'll need to grow the right crops at the right time, and pair them with the right season extenders.

A mini hoop tunnel shelters spinach, lettuce, leeks and other cold-tolerant vegetables for harvest from fall through winter.

A mini hoop tunnel shelters spinach, lettuce, leeks and other cold-tolerant vegetables for harvest from fall through winter.

The right crops are the cool- and cold-tolerant vegetables like kale, leeks, carrots, celeriac, spinach, mache, scallions and endive. Many of these should be planted in mid- to late summer. Planting times will vary based on your geographic location. In Nova Scotia I transplant autumn broccoli and kale seedlings into the garden the first of August. At that time, I also direct-sow carrot seeds for winter harvesting. Quicker-growing salad crops like spinach, arugula, lettuce, mizen and tats are planted in early to mid-September; they will eventually be sheltered beneath a range of season extenders. I rely on several types of devices:

Row covers. These look flimsy, but they can easily extend the autumn harvest by about a month. Lay them directly on the crops or float them on hoops.

Mini hoop tunnels. These are useful and easy and inexpensive to build. We make our hoops from half-inch PVC or metal conduit. The hoops are then placed over our garden beds and covered with row cover or six-mil greenhouse poly.

Cold frames. Essentially bottomless wooden boxes equipped with clear tops, these are year-round food factories. We use them to shelter root crops like carrots and beets, plus a wide range of cold-tolerant salad greens.

Finally, mulch. It's perhaps the easiest and cheapest way to extend the harvest of root and stem crops. In late autumn, top carrot, beet, celeriac and leek beds with a 12- to 18-inch-thick layer of shredded leaves or straw. Cover this with a piece of fabric to hold it in place and harvest all winter long.

Image credit: Chiot's Run/CC BY-NC 2.0