The onset of fall doesn’t need to mean the end of harvesting fresh veggies. There are a number of ways to extend your harvest season. Here are the top 10 tips for extending your harvest.
1. Preserve the harvest. When summer crops are at their peak, take advantage of the abundance. We dry lots of different fruit, including tomatoes. That way there’s no waste and in the dead of winter we get to munch on dried apricots, plums, etc. Canning is another good way to extend the harvest. Properly canned food greatly extends the shelf life. Churn out a big batch of marinara and freeze it in sealed plastic bags. Freeze the plethora of berries for use in pies, muffins or smoothies. You get the idea.
2. Leave root crops in the ground. Many root crops actually improve in flavor when exposed to chilly temps. Carrots, parsnips and beets are examples of root crops that can be left in the ground up to the first deep freeze. Think of it as storing them in a root cellar.
3. Build a root cellar. On the subject of root cellars, build one. Dig into the side of a hill or directly into the ground and top it with an old door, or build a cold storage area in your basement or garage. Store produce such as squash, potatoes, carrots and apples at 33-40 degrees F. (0-4 C.) in your root cellar. Barring a root cellar, store these items in the coolest, darkest area available to you.
4. Plant succession crops. Succession planting just means that as one crop is done producing, replant a second crop in the vacated area. Depending upon your region, a second crop of bush beans, cucumber and summer squash may be had before the first frost if planted in late July or early August. Veggies that tolerate light frost include:
In the case of potatoes, you will not get full sized spuds but rather small, new potatoes. Vegetables that can be planted in August to withstand low temperatures include:
5. Provide additional protection. Use items such as frost cloth, tunnels, row covers, cold frames and shade cloth to protect the above mentioned succession crops from early cold snaps. Also, planting in raised beds allows the soil to warm up faster.
6. Mulch the garden. Use lightweight mulches, such as straw, to protect cold hardy veggies like turnips and beets. Cover them with 6-12 inches of straw. When you want to harvest, just set the straw to the side, harvest and then re-cover the remaining vegetables with the straw.
7. Harvesting care. How you harvest often affects how much you will harvest. For leafy greens, harvest frequently to encourage the plant to leaf out. Harvest the older, lower leaves first and be sure to leave at least 2-3 leaves per plant. As you thin leafy greens such as arugula and spinach, don’t toss out the thinnings. Use the tender greens in salads. When harvesting broccoli or cauliflower, cut the stems of florets high up the stalk. This encourages a secondary head to form.
8. Start seedlings inside. Use grow lights to give the seedlings the light and warmth they need. Starting the seeds indoors can really give you a jump on planting and some of the cool weather succession crops will succeed better if they are transplanted rather than directly sown.
9. Choose cold hardy plants. When choosing your seeds, focus on varieties that tolerate cooler weather and that have a longer harvest season.
10. Grow indoors. If you aren’t set up to protect the crops or don’t have garden space, you can grow broccoli, kale and radish for use as microgreens under a grow light. Lettuce can be sowed in a deeper tray and then harvested as needed through the cold winter months. Don’t’ forget the herbs. Tender perennials, like rosemary and lavender, can be brought inside and harvested during cold months and then replanted outdoors in the spring.