April 8, 2013

Tips for extending the growing season

North Country gardeners are always looking for ways to add a few more weeks to the growing season. 

While you should be able to get a decent crop of most vegetables without having to provide extra protection, a little bit of effort can result in a much larger yield with a longer period of harvest. 

It’s important to understand the needs of each crop you plan to grow. Cool-season crops are those that can take a light frost and grow well under cooler conditions. They include spinach, lettuce, parsley, onions, leeks and peas. Warm-season crops will be killed if frosted and need temperatures above 70 degrees to thrive. This group includes tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, melons, cucumbers and basil.

Although warm-season crops may not die during cool weather, they won’t put on much growth until they have those warmer temperatures. The cool-season crops are the easiest to work with in our climate as you try to extend your season.

Traditionally, gardeners make their plans around the local date of the last chance of frost. If you want to gamble and set out frost-sensitive plants before that date, you need to have frost protection at hand to help them survive when cold weather is predicted. But that date is getting harder and harder to predict as our weather seesaws from warm spells to cold snaps. I used to say that May 20 was a safe guess for the latest chance of frost in the Champlain Valley, and early June in the higher elevations of Dannemora and Lake Placid. You might try pushing that back a week or two now, but be ready for anything.

Rowcover is the generic term for a lightweight fabric that can be either laid right over the crops or held up on hoops above the foliage. The fabric resembles dryer sheets and is porous enough to let rain, sunlight and air circulate. It comes in many widths and lengths, although you may have to use mail order to find the larger sizes. 

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