The growing season is defined as those months in which the climate is conducive to the development of crops. If one lives in a climate that is mild most, or all, of the year, the growing season is naturally extended. That is the case with San Francisco, but not with my French garden.
While I don’t have any secret tricks for extending the growing season, some of my classic gardening maneuvers do help me grow more veggies for a longer time. Here are few of my personal favorites.
Plant Early Indoors
Anyone who grows their garden vegetables from seeds can use the “plant early indoors” approach to extend the growing season. Just sow those seeds indoors in biodegradable pots up to eight full weeks before the last spring frost. This gives you a two month jump-start on the season.
Don’t rush out for expensive grow lights. That really isn’t necessary, and I never use them. Instead, I find that ordinary fluorescent lighting gives my seeds sufficient light to germinate and turn into strong seedlings. When it’s time to put them outside, just dig holes and place the containers in the garden bed.
There are lots of reasons to love raised garden beds – including providing better drainage and giving young roots more room to dig in. Here’s another: raised beds get warm sooner than soil in the ground which makes them great for those who grow flowers and/or vegetables from seeds.
Building up the soil to several inches (8 cm.) above the normal level provides warmer soil than flat beds in springtime. That means you can transplant your seedlings into raised beds earlier, further extending the growing season.
Just like you use a blanket to keep warm at night, you can “cover” your crops to protect them against spring and fall chill. When spring is looking cold, I use row covering and metal hoops to build low tunnels of light fabric that keeps chilly air from damaging young leaves. As summer takes over the weather, you can remove the agricultural fabric and expose the crops.
What about in autumn? It’s possible to replace the row covering and tunnels or simply use floating row covers to blanket the maturing crops. Another way to handle this is to turn plastic milk jugs into cloches that protect against the cold. Just cut the bottoms of the jugs out. Or buy cloches in the garden store, placing them over individual plants.