With temperatures hitting the 90s it’s hard to imagine that the fall vegetable growing season is just around the corner. But before too long we will have the moderate temperatures and sunny skies that make vegetable plants thrive. The only drawbacks are that the days will become shorter and the true fall weather may only last a few weeks. In that short amount of time it is difficult to get a good harvest. That’s why it is important to plan how you can extend your fall vegetable gardening on into the winter.
The first step in planning a garden is to determine what you want to plant. The Hillsborough County Extension Office has a Gardening Almanac that can be a big help. For each month they offer suggestions on which flowers, vegetables, herbs and bulbs to start planting.
The second step is figuring out where you are going to plant your herbs and vegetables. Are you going to plant in raised beds, nursery pots or containers such as the EarthBox? Where can you put your plants to maximize the hours of exposure to the sun during the shorter days? Can you position the plants close to a watering source? Remember that in the fall and winter the majority of our rain comes with the leading edge of cold fronts. The rainfall sometimes only lasts a few minutes.
If you are trying to extend your vegetable growing season into winter you have to watch out for the frosts and freezes that occur whenever arctic air plunges southward. How can you set up your plants so that you can get them under protection whenever the thermometer drops towards freezing? Most herbs are very cold hardy with the exception of basil and Thai basil. You needn’t concern yourself too much with how to protect your herbs. There are also several green leafy vegetables like cabbage, collards, kale and kohlrabi that can handle freezing temperatures. Some of the other vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, will need your help to stay warm enough to survive.
During previous winters I have spent countless hours moving my plants into and out of the garage to protect the less cold hardy ones from freezes. This year I really need to build a cold frame or two to make things a little easier. A cold frame is just a wooden box containing plants that has a window with hinges on the top. It slopes a little bit from back to front so rain water pours off. During the day, when the sun is out, you open the window on the top to the vent the cold frame. Otherwise the plants inside would get fried. When a cold night approaches you put the lid all the way down to protect the plants inside. It’s a lot like having a mini greenhouse and it’s supposed to be the ultimate in cold protection.