How to extend the end of the growing season in eastern Idaho
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We are having night time temperatures drop, and sadly by the end of next month, we will have a frost. Many area vegetable gardens are in full production, and having their later maturing crops start to ripen. This has caused many people to ask the question of how to extend the growing season in our area for as long as possible. I have seen some inexpensive methods of season extension, which allowed gardeners to have produce around one month or longer after the first killing frost. Here is a list of things you can do to help extend the end of the growing season.
- Cold Frames: These unheated low ground structures are designed to trap the suns warmth on cool days, and then reduce the extreme cold that comes from frosts at night time. They are generally constructed from wood and glass windows, or wood and plastic. They need to be easily opened to release extra heat on warm Fall days as they can become too hot inside and damage the plants. They are generally temporary structures and are only 2-3 feet tall, and as wide as the grower needs. They can be used in the Spring as well as the Fall. Generally, in the Fall they are used for low growing crops that need a couple of extra weeks for full produce maturity, such as tomatoes. They can be inexpensive if you build them yourself, and if the materials are at a reasonable price, as well as they can last for many years.
- Row Covers: These differ from cold frames as they are not structures, but rolls of fabric that can help prevent damage from minor frosts. They can be used at both the beginning and the end of the season to protect row crops that are low growing. It is generally a white fabric, and can be staked down with pins or large wire staples. You will need to put supports underneath the fabric to keep it off of the top of the plants, and prevent frost damage. It is reusable year after year, and not overly expensive. Only used for light frosts, not harder frosts.
- Commercial plant covers: There are several brands and styles of plant covers that are designed to cover plants, but most are designed for seedlings and transplants at the beginning of the season. If they are a genetically small plant such as a tomato designed to grow in a small pot for container gardening, then a Wall-o-Water might work very well. Or you could use a Grow It Now cover which is a simple plastic plant protection system that can be expanded to encase larger plants at the end of the growing season. Just connect two together and you have doubled the size of the cover and can be used on larger tomato plants, peppers, eggplants, and several other crops. One good attribute is the light penetration into the cover so that plants can maximize the sunlight it receives as the days get shorter.
- Frost Tolerant Vegetable Varieties: Don’t get too excited, there are no vegetable plants that can withstand killing frosts into the late Fall. But, there are vegetable varieties that can handle a mild frost without death and complete destruction. Those would be your cool-season crops like lettuce, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and spinach. The other is that there are new vegetable varieties coming out on the market who have improved attributes of frost tolerance. They will be identified as being more frost tolerant than other varieties on the packet, and have been developed for this specific purpose.