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Season Extenders: How to Grow Food in the Winter

When the weather turns cold, many people believe that it means you can’t grow veggies. They’d be wrong! With the use of season extenders, cold-hardy vegetables thrive in these temperatures. With proper planning, your crops will grow and flourish.

Only growing crops in the summer means that you are only taking advantage of ¼ of the year. You have three more seasons that can produce a more abundant harvest for your family. Season extenders give you a way to protect your crops from the cold temperatures associated with late fall and winter.

Are you interested in growing food in the winter? Let’s dive into season extenders.

Why is Growing Food in the Winter Difficult?

Most gardeners plan to grow veggies in the summer because plants struggle to survive in cold weather. Believe it or not, plants struggle in the winter not just because of the cold weather but also the lack of sunlight.

Cold hardy vegetables thrive in lower temperatures, and if you use season extenders, having a winter garden isn’t difficult. That’s why using season extenders an essential part of a winter garden. They allow you to extend your harvest and protect your crops from the extreme cold.

Think of season extenders like your winter jacket. Your face is cold, and you might not be super warm. However, the coat traps heat and protects your body. Season extenders increase the temperature around the plants by several degrees, and that makes a difference.

The second reason that plants don’t thrive in the winter is the lack of sunlight. Plants need at least 10 hours of sunshine per day to grow. Proper planning allows the plants to reach maturity before your location receives less than 10 hours per day.

While season extenders can’t fix the lack of sunlight, they can be used to help your plants continue to mature until your location reduces down to less than 10 hours a day.

The 5 Types of Season Extenders

Cold Frames

A cold frame is a fantastic DIY project. It can be as simple as a wooden box with an old window and a hinge. Cold frames look like small, raised beds that are covered by either plastic or glass. The plastic or glass attracts sunlight while also trapping it inside.

The glass or plastic needs to be able to flip open to allow the heat to escape during warmer weather. Ideally, you could remove the top during the summer and attach it when the cold temperatures strike.

You also can use cold frames to harden off seedlings. So, use them to start lettuce and greens in the spring. A cold frame is great for giving your fresh lettuce and other greens throughout the winter.

Row Covers

Row covers, often called floating row covers or garden fabric, are one of the most popular picks for season extenders. It’s a thin piece of cloth that covers your plants, protecting from the cold, wind, and pests. At the same time, row covers allow light to enter and rain to still reach the soil.

If you live in an area with mild weather, row covers are a good choice. Those who have freezing temperatures should depend on something else to have a winter garden. Another option is to have two layers of fabric together.

Floating row covers are great for covering plants in the spring. You can grow early sowings of lettuce and spinach with these covers.

Greenhouses

Greenhouses are often called high tunnels, and they can be as simple or detailed as you want. It can be an investment to create a greenhouse on your property. For serious gardeners, greenhouses will end up being worth the cost and time.

You can make greenhouses out of wood or plastic, or you can use metal hoops and cover it with greenhouse plastic.

Greenhouses can be heated or unheated. Some greenhouses are large enough that you can walk through them comfortably. If you garden a lot, you can create a large greenhouse and bring your children with you. You can easily fit a playpen into a big greenhouse!

Low Tunnels

So, based on the name, low tunnels are the opposite of high tunnels. They look like a high tunnel but on a smaller scale, and they usually cover one or two garden beds at a time. Low tunnels protect crops from frost and cold wind.

Many gardeners love low tunnels because they’re inexpensive and easy to install. You can take them down and relocate whenever you want. Most low tunnels can last for several years, so your minimal investment goes far.

The only problem with low tunnels is that you might need to hold the plastic down with something, such as sandbags. It can come off during heavy storms.

Cloches

A cloche is a small cover that goes over the top of one plant, protecting it from the temperatures and weather. Some gardeners use bell-shaped glass cloches, while others use the more popular option of a plastic milk jug that is cut off the bottom.

You can purchase larger, plastic cloches that are rectangular and cover more than one plant. Cloches aren’t an ideal choice if you have a lot of plants. As you might imagine, it can be expensive or difficult to obtain enough cloches to cover a large garden. These are better for small-scale gardening.

Final Thoughts

Season extenders are an excellent tool for gardeners. No matter the extender you select, you do need to check the temperatures inside and outside. Plants always need proper ventilation. You don’t want to freeze or burn your crops.

Always check to ensure ventilation in your selection is appropriate, and realize you might have to open and close the extenders manually as the weather changes.

With the use of season extenders, you can grow food in the late fall and winter. You’ll be able to produce more food than you ever thought was possible. Season extenders can double your harvest each year, and no one can argue with that.

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