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How to Expand a Short Growing Season
There is an incredible range of temperatures, climates, and growing conditions across North America. The continent includes vast deserts, temperate rain forests, and mountain ranges. And because there are so many different climates, often within the same region, the types of crops and lengths of growing seasons vary dramatically, too. Florida might be able to produce citrus year-round, but that’s not the norm. If you live in a zone with a short growing season, you can still grow fresh fruits and veggies to enjoy this year—you just have to be proactive. Identifying which Plant Hardiness Zone you live in will help you assess how to proceed. (United States’ zones can be found at planthardiness.ars.usda.gov and Canada’s zones can be found at planthardiness.gc.ca.)
Becky Sideman, UNH (University of New Hampshire) Extension Specialist and Researcher with the Agricultural Experimentation Station, explains that New Hampshire, for example, has growing zones ranging from 3b to 6b. “In some very northern locations, we might have frosts in mid-June and in the end of August, whereas in other areas, we consider half of May and some of October to be frost free,” she says. “Several vegetables that require a very long growing season just won’t do well in New Hampshire.”
Sideman suggests that, in the case of longer season vegetables like tomatoes, okra, or lima beans, it might be possible for gardeners to find varieties that mature in a shorter period of time. “I encourage growers to look toward seed suppliers that test varieties locally, or even that breed locally, so they have some assurance that the varieties will do well in their climate,” she adds.
Many growers start seeds indoors, even under grow lights, to get a start on the season. But Sideman suggests that gardeners wait until as late as possible to start seedlings. “Light is usually the limiting factor, and even with grow lights, it is difficult to provide seedlings with enough light to keep them healthy and stocky,” she explains. “The later you wait, the more natural daylight there is and the shorter time you will need to keep plants inside where light may not be sufficient.”
Some vegetables (such as hardy or half-hardy crops) can tolerate very cold temperatures and can be seeded as early as the ground can be worked, according to Sideman. Examples of these vegetables include spinach and peas. Other crops, like those in the gourd family (melon and squash for example), or tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, really need to wait until after frost, and further, until after the soil temperature has warmed up to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. “In case a gardener has jumped the gun a bit, and there is an unexpected late frost, row cover fabrics placed over the plants can help provide a warm protected space in a planting area,” says Sideman. “Many commercial farmers use these with earlier plantings to help them grow a bit faster and get a jump on the growing season.” Garden fabric for covering rows, along with hoop frames, can be found through suppliers including Gardener’s Supply Company (gardeners.com), Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com), and larger stores including Home Depot and Lowes.
“In many parts of New Hampshire, we say that Memorial Day [late May] is a safe frost-free date,” says Sideman. “Because of the variable climate throughout the state, however, there are definitely cold pockets where it would not be safe to plant until June, and other parts where it would usually be safe to plant by May 15,” says Sideman. In the US, each state’s Cooperative Extension Service can provide information specific to that state.
Temperature is usually the environmental factor that has the biggest effect on growth rate. “Outdoors, there is traditionally not a lot we can do about changing temperature,” she adds. “Row covers do provide a slightly warmer environment for plants. Also, ‘hardening off’ plants—or gradually exposing them to UV light, cooler temperatures, and reducing watering—can make them more resistant to various stresses including low temperatures.” In late fall, there are several plants that are very tolerant of cold weather, even frosts. Sideman mentions that brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and spinach can still be harvested as late as November, along with carrots and parsnips. In fact, she says some of these crops will even survive over the winter, especially if protected by mulches. Written by Carolyn M. Runyon. Photography provided by (from left) ©iStockphoto.com/pashapixel, ©iStockphoto.com/DavorLovincic, ©iStockphoto.com/KellyJHall, ©iStockphoto.com/More86.
Raul Acuña - Raul has been in the Real Estate Industry since 2005. Raul began working at an REO brokerage before opening his own REO company in 2010. Raul has a business degree from Cal Poly Pomona, ....