Season Extension: Gardening in Fall and Winter

Enjoy fresh produce, even in the colder days of fall and winter, with plastic cloches, cold frames, and other season-extension gear.

| Fall 2016

  • Plastic-covered tunnels make great mini-greenhouses.
    Photo by Robin Wimbiscus
  • Straw or hay bales can easily be combined wtih an old window to make a nifty cold frame.
    Photo by Robin Wimbiscus
  • Capture the sun's rays with painted-black bottles.
    Photo by Robin Wimbiscus

As fall begins to soften summer heat, those gardening in fall and gardening in winter scurry to collect plastic cloches, erect tunnels, and put together workable cold frames. Using season-extension devices such as these can add significant time to your growing season, in both fall and spring.

You can make an amazing array of season-extension garden gear from found or recycled materials, and you won’t have to rely on electric grow lights for seed starting in spring.

Creating season-extending equipment is fun because you’re working with free solar energy. The trick is to come up with simple structures that can withstand strong winds, shed rain and snow, and absorb and store solar warmth for the plants you’re protecting.

Physical shelter from blustery weather will help any plant, but cool-natured plants such as lettuce, spinach, and cabbage-family crops don’t need as much heat as tender tomatoes or peppers — especially at night. Simple plastic cloches or plastic-covered cold frames raise nighttime temperatures 4 to 5 degrees, but you can double that number by throwing on an insulating blanket in the evening. Or triple the protection by adding black water bottles, which release stored daytime warmth after the sun sets.

Try Creative Plastic Cloches

Low, transparent individual plant protectors, called cloches, are the season-stretchers of choice for plants spaced more than 8 inches apart, such as tomatoes and peppers. Most gardeners keep a stash of cloches made from translucent plastic milk jugs or clear plastic bottles. I pick up roomy plastic juice jugs with handles at my local recycling center. Before cutting off the bottom of any jug, I make a V-shaped slit in the top of the handle. Later, I can shove a long, slender stick through the slit and down into the soil to help hold the cloche steady in the wind.

Even when anchored by mulch, strong winds may blow away many cloches — except for heavy ones such as the Wall O’ Waters, which weigh about 25 pounds when filled. A circle of water-filled plastic drink bottles duct-taped together is heavy enough to stay put and hold down the edges of a sheet of plastic tucked around the cloche for extra frost protection. Countless other items make great emergency cloches for freaky cold spells, including plastic cake covers, upturned flowerpots, cardboard boxes, buckets, baskets, and old lampshades or light fixtures.



September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pennsylvania

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