Photo Gallery index > Extending the Season - Fall 2014

  • When I started gardening, everything was planted around the May long weekend. This strategy worked until I became a little more serious about producing my family's food and got tired of having crops mature pretty much at the same time in August. When I started seed saving, I discovered that many crops have to be planted as early as possible in order for the seeds to mature fully. Now I start planting as early as the season allows, sometimes in mid-April. I also stagger plantings so that we can harvest food for our family over a longer period. 

Late season plantings of coll season crops are done in early to mid-August for a fall harvest. If we plant much later than mid-Aug. the plants wont have enough time to gain stature. Generally, any late season plantings will only have until later September to grow, which is when the cold usually sets in and the number of hours of sunshine has decreased significantly. Afterwards, the plants mostly remain in a state of suspended animation until a severe hard frost takes them out. Most cool weather plants can withstand a -5C without being covered. If temperatures are expected to drop lower than -5C, I will cover the plants with old clean blankets, sheets, polyester landscape cloth or tarps (tarps are not great for heat retention, but are better than nothing). We also have cold frames and mini hoop houses, but have abandoned these in recent years in favour of more portable coverings. These are put over the plants in the evening and removed in the day when temperatures have risen. The more the temperatures are expected to fall the heavier the coverings we use, sometimes doubling or tripling them up. At one point this past fall, our gardens looked like patchwork quilts from all the coverings. 

This photo was taken in late October and these particular plants continued to feed us into early November until they were taken out by -16C frost. From left to right we have, Bloomsdale Spinach, Harmonic Lettuce Mix, Green Oak Lettuce, Outredgeous Lettuce, Coriander and Pink Beauty Radish.
  • This photo of spring planted chard was taken in mid-October. Some of the chard leaves were damaged from the -5C frost we had in early September. We find well covered chard can withstand temperatures down to -10C. In behind the chard in the photo you can see an early August planting of cool-weather-loving arugula, a garden workhorse which grows best in both the spring and fall.
  • This photo of fall harvested greens was taken in late October. Note that the kale was planted in early August, with the plants reaching about 15cm (6in) high. Spring planted kale will also survive frosts - if the deer don't find it first! Lacinato can withstand temperatures down to -10C, while Green Curly and Red Russian can take temperatures to -12C without being covered. Coverings will extend your kale season even further. Our kale is often alive into late November and early December, depending on the weather. The other greens shown the frying pan are chard, spinach and tatsoi/spinach mustard. Sauteing greens invites flavour options and improves digestibility.
  • Most gardeners grow favas for their delicious fresh and dried beans. Favas leaves can also be eaten as greens and can be steamed, baked or boiled, pretty much as you would spinach. Their taste is reminiscent of pea vines mixed with spinach.

Fava beans are one of the first seeds we plant in the spring - usually mid-April. They are also one of the last seeds to go in for a fall crop of greens. I usually soak the seeds overnight to speed germination. This past summer we planted fava bean seeds August 21st and got a great showing of leaves. They even grew beyond the tender green stage and started flowering - so next summer we will test plant them even later in August. Their growth in the fall, of course, would depend on weather conditions in the fall.
  • I would call this indoor season extension. Squash plants are tender annuals that will die when temperatures dip below 0C. The fruits can withstand lower temperatures, but if they freeze - they will rot and we like to enjoy them over the winter. One of the characteristics that distinguishes a winter squash from a summer squash is that the former can usually be stored indoors for a prolonged period. Winter squashes, however, vary widely in their ability to be overwintered. What I adore about the buttercups featured in this photo is their ability to sit in our kitchen into March/April. Albeit our kitchen temperature in the winter averages 15 - 18C, Many people have a room in their home that is slightly cool making it ideal for storing such crops. 

Note the melons in the photo that have also been brought inside. These can stay at room temperature for up to a few weeks buying us some time to cut, seed, skin, chop and freeze them. We continue to try various melons, but still haven't found one that tastes great and reliably finishes in Alberta. We will keep searching....
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