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Magic Boxes: Using Cold Frames to Extend Your Growing Season

As “Seaside Gardener” Nikki Jabbour is happy to report, simple strategies for extending your planting and harvesting seasons can be found in the pages of master organic gardener Eliot Coleman‘s books. You can make simple hoophouses, cold frames, and even greenhouses at a very low cost—and keep eating carrots, kale, and greens into November.

From Halifax News Net:

Many of us grew up with the type of vegetable garden that was planted in June, harvested in August and forgotten about until the next year. I’m happy to say that those gardens are a thing of the past. Today, Maritime gardeners often start planting directly outside in early April and the harvest can last well into the winter, thanks to a little ingenuity and simple protective measures.

Before rushing to the garden to plant more crops, there are several factors that will greatly increase your chances of success. First, pick the right crops. Certain vegetables thrive in cold weather, including types of kale, carrots, leeks, radishes, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, mâche, arugula, spinach and endive, to name a few.

The other important consideration is sowing time. Seeding at the proper time will ensure a crop that is large enough, but not too large by the time growth slows in late October. Many salad greens can be seeded throughout late summer and into early fall for a long succession of harvest, while others, such as carrots and leeks, should be about 85 per cent grown by the time the cold weather hits (I plant on Aug. 1 for a winter harvest). They will then “hold” in the soil all winter long, getting sweeter and sweeter as the temperature gets colder and colder.

How do you prevent these crops from becoming vegetable popsicles and freezing solid in the ground over the winter? There are several simple structures that you can build, which will add enough protection to prevent the ground from freezing. These include a cold frame, quick hoops or an unheated greenhouse structure.

‘Magic Boxes’

Cold frames are often called “magic boxes,” thanks to the bounty they provide. They can be basic structures made simply of straw bales arranged in a rectangle and covered with an old window pane or a piece of clear polycarbonate material. A cold frame can also be more permanent if it is built from wood with glass or plastic glazing. Design plans can easily be found on the Internet or in a good book, such as my favourites, Four Season Harvest and  The Winter Harvest Handbook, both by Eliot Coleman.

Using a cold frame will effectively move you about 1 1/2 growing zones to the south. So, if you garden in zone 6, you’ll be growing your crops in zone 7 1/2. That’s quite a difference. And, you can move another 1 1/2 zones further south by adding an interior layer of floating row cover on top of the crops in the cold frame.

A floating row cover is simply a spun fabric that is widely available in nurseries and garden centres. It allows light and moisture to pass through, but insulates the crops. By combining these two protective measures, you have just moved your garden about three zones to the south!

Read the whole article here.

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