Not ready to put your garden to bed just yet? Luckily, gardening doesn’t have to end when summer does. There are plenty of great ways to extend your harvest season so you can keep eating those garden-fresh veggies all through the fall!
Try some of the following ideas to keep your garden producing longer.
12 Easy Ways to Extend the Harvest Season
1. Cold Frames
Cold frames are basically tiny greenhouses that can be mobile or stationary. The general design is a low to the ground wooden base with a transparent top that can be opened and closed.
They are simple to make yourself out of glass or plastic and can fit easily over garden beds.
Tip: Old windows are a great resource for making cold frames!
As the weather starts looking frosty, don’t panic, just place a cold frame over your garden beds to trap heat from the sun, prevent the soil from freezing, and keep plants thriving longer. Cold frames are also great in early spring to protect your plants from late cold snaps.
2. Hoop Houses
Have too many crops to fit under a cold frame? Hoop houses are great because they are larger and more practical for bigger gardens, but are also relatively mobile, easy to build, and can be done on a budget.
Also referred to as high tunnels, hoop houses are made from a series of plastic, metal, or wood hoops covered in a tight layer of greenhouse plastic. Like cold frames, hoop houses trap heat from the sun to protect plants keep the soil warm.
Many designs allow for plastic to roll up in warmer months so plants can grow under the hoop houses all through the growing season. With proper ventilation many gardeners keep plants in hoop houses all year long!
Want a more permanent structure? Greenhouses can be heated or unheated, large or small, purchased or DIY.
At my home in Vermont, I built a DIY lean-to style greenhouse attached to the back of my house (photo above), made mainly from repurposed windows and doors.
This is another DIY green house (shown below), a stand alone example also made with recycled windows. The builder also made use of free pallet racks gleaned from craigslist for the frame.
Heated greenhouses can enable many crops to be grown right through the winter, but even unheated greenhouses can be used to start plants in early spring and shield plants from cold in the fall. Depending on the size and design of your greenhouse you may even be able to plant right in the ground inside them.
If you do want heat but don’t want a propane bill, there are plenty of creative ways to maximize heat in a greenhouse through measures like radiant floor heating, passive solar designs, or even placing large drums of water along the back wall.
This Gardener’s Path article has some great plans and ideas for cold frames, hoop houses, and greenhouses.
4. Row Covers
Row covers, or floating row covers, are perhaps the simplest way to cover plants. Row covers are simply garden fabric that is draped and secured over plants as a protective covering.
Fabric is sometimes draped directly over plants and sometimes secured around a series of hoops, essentially functioning as a mini-hoop house.
Row covers are extremely easy to use and can be a fairly cheap solution to season extension.
In addition to protecting plants from cold, row covers can also be used to protect cooler season crops from heat and to protect plants from pests.
Garden fabric, generally made from polyester or polypropylene, is porous, so unlike cold frames or plastic hoop houses, row covers also allow for rain to pass through to plants.
5. Choosing Appropriate Fall Crops
When considering crops to extend your garden season into the fall, what you plant matters. Some species do much better than others when it comes to cooler temperatures.
In general, crops that are planted in spring tend to also do well planted in mid-summer for a fall harvest. For ideas on what to plant, check out this Gardener’s Path article on 19 Cool-Weather Crops for a Productive Fall Garden.
6. Succession Planting
Succession planting simply means staggering plantings of crops, either by utilizing the same space to grow more than one crop in succession, or by repeated timed plantings of the same crop. For instance, planting lettuce every few weeks throughout the summer and into fall will ensure a continuous supply throughout the season.
It is also a great idea to plant multiple varieties of the same crop that mature at different times.
By maximizing space and time, succession planting will help you maintain a continuous supply of garden goodies.
Mulching is great for the garden for so many reasons. It keeps down weeds, regulates moisture in the soil, prevents erosion, and builds soil.
It is also especially beneficial for keeping soil warm and protecting plants in cold temperatures. By adding a thick layer of straw, hay, or other mulch material, soil temperatures can remain warmer for much longer.
When properly protected under a thick two-foot layer of mulch, some cold tolerant crops can even be left in the ground and harvested throughout the winter.
8. Microclimate Observation
It is important to be aware of your USDA planting zone, which can help you determine what crops can be planted in your climate and when. But it can also be useful to get even more specific.
A microclimate refers to the climate of a very small or specific location that may be different from locations that surround it.
For instance, one side of my house receives more sun than the other and is protected from wind by a line of trees. This microclimate may not frost or freeze as quickly as a more shaded or open area of my yard.
By observing microclimates in our yards over time, and perhaps taking detailed notes year after year, it becomes much easier to adapt garden layouts to maximize potential use of space and can even open up possibilities that may have seemed impossible before.
You may be surprised to find that the crop that never withstood the temperature and moisture changes of your backyard may thrive for much longer in a different location only a few feet away.
9. Raised Beds
Raised beds are mounds of soil that sit above ground level, often contained within a frame made of wood, rocks, cinder blocks, or other material.
Since the soil contained in raised beds is elevated, it dries quicker and warms faster than the soil at ground level. Because they warm earlier in the spring and stay warmer later into the fall, raised beds can be useful for extending the harvest season.
Another great benefit of raised beds is that they are easy to cover with cold frames or row covers, which can extend the season even further.
As an added bonus, since soil in raised beds doesn’t get compacted, it doesn’t need to be turned or tilled often, decreasing the amount of weed seeds coming to the surface, and decreasing maintenance for you!
10. Rotating Crops
Rotating crops is an important measure to improve the health of any garden, but it is particularly important to ensure that plants stay healthy and happy longer into the fall.
Rotating crops is simply moving crops and related family members to different locations in the garden each season.
There are many benefits to crop rotation, including a reduced risk of pest and disease. Crop rotation also results in more balanced soil, as different crops have different nutrient needs. Plants in turn are able to grow more vigorously and produce longer.
The harvest season can be cleverly extended by planting fast growing crops in between slow growing ones. Once the slow growers are big enough to start to spread out, the fast growers are already done. Inter-planting maximizes garden space so you can get more bang for your buck!
When planting a fall crop of carrots, for example, try inter-planting radishes between them. The radishes will be ready to harvest just as the carrots are starting to take up more space.
12. Windowsill Gardening
Finally, why not dig up some of those frost hating friends, pot them up, and place them on your south facing windowsill?
Not only can you extend the life of many herbs and plants, you also have the benefit of adding a glint of green to all that winter white. After all, who doesn’t love coming home to a living room filled with plants at the end of a dreary winter day?
Many culinary herbs and crops grow well inside, and some can continue producing through the winter if proper care is taken. In cases where plants may be perennial to a higher hardiness zone, they can often be kept alive throughout the winter to be replanted outside again in spring.
Choose plants that don’t require humid conditions and can tolerate part shade. Leafy greens, root veggies, and culinary herbs such as sage, mint, parsley, and chives are all great candidates for a windowsill garden. You can also supplement the lack of sun with an indoor UV light to give plants an extra boost.
No Need to Get Overwhelmed
As you can see, there are many options for ways to extend the harvest season. Find the ones that work well for you; if building a greenhouse seems daunting or is too large for your space, then try some simple row covers or find a local source of straw mulch.
You can easily combine methods or experiment with several with different crops. And don’t be surprised if your fall garden soon becomes the talk of the neighborhood!
What tricks have you learned to extend the harvest season? Share your experience in the comments below!
For more fall gardening ideas, check out these articles:
- The 19 Best Cool-Weather Crops for a Productive Fall Garden
- The Best 15 Woody Shrubs for Fall Color
- 15 of the Best Annuals for Vivid Fall Color
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About Heather Buckner
Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!