It used to be that the first fall frost signaled the end to the vegetable harvest for most gardeners. But no longer! More and more gardeners are incorporating techniques and materials that allow them to continue to harvest crops through the fall and even into the winter. Cold frames, row covers, low tunnels, and hoop houses are some systems used to keep the harvest coming after frost hits. Many are also rediscovering the benefits of storage systems like root cellars, commonly used in generations past to keep produce fresh for months after the end of harvest season.
Many market growers are also using these techniques as a way to extend their harvests and income into the winter months. One such grower is Becky Maden, Assistant Farm Manager at the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, Vermont. Writing in The Seed Hopper, High Mowing Organic Seed's online blog, she offers advice on growing and storing crops for winter markets. While aimed primarily at market gardeners, her suggestions are also useful for home gardeners looking to extend their harvest.
For example, she notes that spinach has been one of the most successful greens grown in the farm's unheated hoop houses, tolerating colder temperatures and a broader range of conditions than crops like arugula and baby lettuce. But she stresses that it's important to choose varieties that have been selected for winter growing, such as 'Regiment' and 'Renegade', both of which are resistant to downy mildew, a common disease on winter-grown spinach. She suggests spacing spinach and other winter greens more widely than for spring or summer sowings to increase air circulation and help prevent diseases from taking hold.
Maden also stresses the importance of timing plantings for fall and winter harvest carefully. Many crops need to be seeded in late summer, when gardeners are still busy with the care and harvest of summer crops, and it's easy to forget about new seed sowing chores. But she points out that delaying a fall sowing by even a week may mean a month of missed harvests in winter, due to the effect of decreasing daylengths on the pace of crop development.
If you plan to store crops like carrots, cabbages, and potatoes in a root cellar, Maden suggest sleuthing out those varieties that do best in storage. For example, she notes that 'Bolero' carrots, while not her first choice for summer and fall fresh use, are tops as keepers, improving in flavor and keeping for months in cool, humid storage conditions.
To read her entire post on Growing and Storing for Winter Markets, go to: High Mowing Organic Seeds.