When I built my 50 dollar greenhouse over a year ago one of my goals was to be able to have something fresh to eat out of the garden or greenhouse every day of the year. Well, it’s been about a year now, and it hasn’t even been very hard to do.
Here is what I’ve learned so far –
Despite what you might have read, lettuce spinach and other salad greens are not really particularly quick crops. Sure you can have a pretty little stand of plants in about 6 weeks or so under good conditions, but in cool weather they don’t really get productive until they are almost 3 months old. Yes you can harvest a few salads out of the thinnings, but the young plants aren’t going to yield an every day supply unless you can plant a pretty large area.
When it gets cold, growth slows way down. However, on sunny days the temperature under glass (or plastic) is balmy, and I’ve continued to see steady growth all winter long. What should be done in the fall is to have a lot of greens grown out as much as possible before it turns so cold that growth slows down.
It’s quite difficult to get those cool season crops to grow productively in Tennessee until late into our rather warm autumns, but once it gets to be jacket weather they do great. Same thing in the spring – once the nights get warm they fail or go to seed. So the easy thing to do is to seed dirrectly into a cold frame or green house in September, then seed again every few weeks all winter long and you can have fresh lettuce and spinach from before Thanksgiving until June. Last year I had tons of productive growth by late winter/early spring.
These crops are almost completely freeze proof – especially spinach. I’ve had temperatures down to 5 degrees with only minor damage to lettuce and none to spinach inside of a frost encrusted cold frame, and even less damage inside of the hoop house for some reason. It’s easier to keep them growing in cold weather than to keep them from bolting (the elongation associated with going to seed which triggers instant bitterness) in early summer.
One of the beautiful things about cool weather gardening is the absence of insect and weed problems. There are usually a few of both, but not to the point of being a problem. Also having productive plants growing in January is really therapeutic to a gardener with cabin fever.
I’ve only mentioned cool weather plants in this post, but it’s worth mentioning that in my area most gardens go to the weeds by early August when they don’t have to. If you want to have a 4 season harvest you have to plan and plant in all 4 seasons as well. I’ve found that the late summer – early fall is probably the most challenging time because it is hot and dry, and insect pests are at their peak, and it just isn’t very much fun. Nonetheless with just a little timely effort you can keep your garden productive by planting the right thing at the right time and also yanking out old plants once they stop being productive.