Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
October, 2011
Regional Report

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This bed of fall greens is simply awaiting its portable cold frame.

Planting Fall Crops

The cold weather is coming on fast, and I can't stand the idea of giving up my Swiss chard, mustard greens, and lettuce that are thriving right now. So I'm hauling out the cold frame. I still have some small Chinese cabbages and endive also, so I'm going to protect them and see how they go through the winter.

Plant Greens Now and Again in February
Although some gardeners swear they can keep salad greens growing in a cold frame all winter, we can't grow much past end of November in our area since the days are too short to store up enough heat. However, we can start again in mid-to-late February for the early spring greens.

Cold Frame Worth the Effort
I'm always on the lookout for ways to push both ends of the gardening season, and I've had pretty good luck with cold frames. Even if an occasional plant is lost to frost, succulent greens for salad in late fall make a cold frame well worth the extra gardening effort.

Portable Cold Frames Easy to Move
I bought a used cold frame last spring, and it is very portable. I can pop it over anything I want to save. It was built out of plywood with rails to hold two storm window panels and is quite sturdy. I plan to leave it in the garden over the winter. I'm sowing lettuce, mustard, and mixed Asian greens in flats to put in the cold frame. I've left enough room to put in jugs of warm water on the coldest nights, and I plan to bank the sides with bales of straw. I know the greens will not get to full size, but as long as they grow somewhat, I can cut them for a tender salad or stir fry.

Cloches and Bell Jars Work on a Smaller Scale
If you don't have a cold frame, you can use smaller scale season extenders such as cloches and hotcaps. These are bottles or caps to slip over individual plants that allow you to extend the growing season three or four weeks on each end. Traditional cloches such as the beautiful bell jars of French intensive gardening are quite expensive, so it usually makes more sense to use the plastic or paper ones that are readily available commercially or to recycle your own milk jugs.

Disposable Covers
You can purchase simple plastic covers that are meant to be discarded after the season is over or more elaborate ones such as the plastic sleeves with water-filled tubes that surround the plant with insulation, called Wall-O-Water. I also used my Wall-O-Waters last spring to protect my tomatoes from the late cold snap we had.

With a little extra effort, you really can have fresh greens for the Thanksgiving table and perhaps even for the December holidays. Besides, what can it hurt? It's only seeds.

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