How to Grow: Season Extending

Learn about extending the season to care for your vegetable garden. I talk about which veggies to grow for a fall garden, the timing of those plantings and the use of cloches, row covers and cold frames to protect your plants from frost.


I’m Charlie Nardozzi, if you’re a vegetable or herb grower you never want the season to end. In some parts of the country you can get away with that, but for most of us we have to deal with frost in the fall. But there are ways to extend your season so you can have a longer harvest. In this video I want to talk about the three things you’re going to need to do to get a long, extended harvest season.

One of them is choose your vegetables wisely. Grow ones that will grow really well under those conditions. The second is the time you’re planting. And the third is using different kinds of materials to extend the season. A lot of these materials and techniques I’m going to talk about could be used in the spring as well. You can get your tomatoes and cucumbers out earlier. But it’s autumn in my garden so let’s talk about ways to do it so you can extend your season into the fall, maybe even to the into the end of the year.

To have a bountiful harvest, the first step is to select your veggies. Leafy greens are probably one of the easiest ones to grow because you can actually harvest them at any stage of maturity. All these crops grow really well with the cooler fall temperatures. But it’s not so much temperatures that’s the issue, it’s day length. In the fall the days are shorter and the light intensity is less. That actually will cut back on your production of your crops. Timing is everything. If you’re in a Zone 5 climate, like I am, and your first fall frost date is around mid October, you’re going to want to be planting your broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage all those brassicas around the end of July. Peas and root crops will be going in soon after that. And then after that you’ll be planting leafy greens, about six weeks before your first fall frost date. That way everything will mature on time. But that means pulling out old plantings mercilessly to make room for the new fall crops. Consult your local Cooperative Extension Service for the best fall planting dates no matter where you are in the country.

So we talked about what vegetables to plant to extend the season and the timing of those plantings. The next thing is to talk about what are the materials you can use to extend that season even longer. You can certainly buy or build a cold frame for a more permanent fixture in your yard. Cold frames are made from wood blocks or metal and have a glass or plexiglass top. The cold frame allows you to plant a bit later into the season and protect plants for weeks. The downside, of course, is you’ll need to ventilate it during sunny days. Even if it’s cool your plants can fry inside if it’s not ventilated properly.

Crop protections aren’t just for newly sown veggies or a big cold frame. You can protect individual plants, like this hot pepper right here, from the first frost. What’s nice about that is if you can get through that first frost often you’ll have a couple weeks of nice, warm temperatures after that. Kind of like an Indian summer. You can actually get an extended season. There are a few cool devices that provide more protection than just a sheet or a tarp. Individual cloches, made out of glass or plastic, can be placed over small plants, such as basil, to protect them. But like a cold frame, you’ll have to stay on top of it during the sunny days and keep the vents open to keep it cool. There are also these pop-up covers that can be placed around a plant and they can extend and cover the whole plant, just like my Padron peppers right here. It’s all protected. The top is made out of a mesh for better ventilation or you can just leave the top open on sunny days. It’ll protect your plant from a light frost.

But the best material for plant protection is the floating row cover. This polypropylene cloth like material has revolutionized season extending and plant protection allowing gardeners to successfully grow things throughout the season. It comes in different kinds of weights. This is a lightweight or a summer weight fabric that lets in about 85% of the light. This is good for mostly animal and pest protection. Other materials, such as micro mesh or tulle, also are great for keeping pests away from newly sown beds. I like them because you can see right through them and see what’s happening inside the bed and you can water them really easily. But they offer little or no frost protection.

The next weight of this fabric is called a standard garden row cover. This one will let in about 70% of the light and protect plants down to about 28F degrees. It’s a good material to use in early fall as your plants are starting to  mature. For absolute frost protection try the garden quilt. This is a heavier weighted row cover made from thicker polypropylene. It can protect plants down to 25F degrees. It allows 60% of the light coming through. Since it blocks more light and rain than lighter weight materials, you’ll have to open it up more often to work around the plants. It’s best to use it on crops that are close to maturing that you want to hold until later in the fall.

While you can simply lay the floating row covers over plants for best protection from the cold, use some type of support. Bent metal hoops allow you to create a tunnel where the plants don’t come in contact with the fabric so they survive the cold longer. You can also protect larger, more mature plants with higher or super hoops. Secure these tunnel fabrics with boards, stones or stakes.

You can start your newly planted fall crops under a micro mesh or a lightweight floating row cover to keep the pests out. Then, as it gets colder, you can transition to a heavier weighted floating row cover to protect them from frost. So whether you’re using an individual cloth to protect one plant or a floating row cover to protect the whole bed of plants, you can use these materials and devices to extend your growing season well into the fall.