More Tips on Fall Growing

Oct. 15, 2010

Cold frames can extend fall organic garden’s season

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

How’s your fall garden doing? We planted ours on Labor Day weekend, and we’ve been eating mizuna and arugula now for about three weeks. Our French radishes are jumping out of the ground!

French radishes grow quickly and are wonderful in salads or sandwiches, as are mizuna and arugula, adding zing! Mix and match. You don’t have to boil down your greens; eat ’em raw! (Wash them first.) Also, consider planting cabbage. It’s a cold-hardy plant that provides excellent nutrition!

Which brings us to the question, what about frost?

Last week, we mentioned Agribon as a material to protect plants. But you can also extend the growing season by building, or buying, a cold frame.

We just installed three of them at ShooFly Farm.

A cold frame is essentially a tiny greenhouse, just big enough to plant within. They come in all sizes, and prices.

This year, we opted to try some “store bought” cold frames. They are 3-ft x 4-ft x19-in. with top doors that can be propped open (essential to keep plants from “frying” even on cold days). These cost about $130 each (from Peaceful Valley). But the jury is out on whether they will last. More substantial ones we looked at cost about $519 each that are 5X8 plastic flip-top “hoop houses” about 4 feet tall (FarmTek and Growers Supply). I really wanted one, but Annette correctly pointed out that we could use that amount for more pressing things.

But, if you’re a good forager, or handy at all, you don’t have to spend much or any money. For example, we have an old frosted shower door over hay bales. The door lets in light; the bales insulate. Any old glass or Plexiglas window units or bent PVC pipes with clear plastic over them can be a cold frame.

With a mild winter, this will keep you in fresh organic lettuce, kale, chard, carrots, turnips, Brussels sprouts, and the like through all but the most killing frost.

Now, if you really get serious about winter organic gardening, the rage these days are giant hoop houses, called “high tunnels,” that can be 50 feet long or more. In Minnesota, where temps go to 50 below zero, they have been known to extend the growing season to 10 months. Down here, I suppose, they could be downright tropical.

We planted the cold frames using “lasagna gardening.” That’s not a food dish, but a no-till, no-digging method of creating a garden plot. Just put down about a quarter-inch of newspapers where you want to garden (in the boxes) to keep down weeds; then layer compost and any other amendments until it’s about 6 inches deep; moisten it all; then plant your plants. In our case, we used compost and worm castings. Voila! Instant garden.

The great thing about cold frames is that if you have put them adjacent to your garden, when it gets warm in the spring, you just lift off the cold frame, and you have extended the size of your garden. Do that every year, and you’ll have a bigger, richer, deeper garden.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 37 programs will lose their baseline funding in the 2012 Farm Bill.

They include the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Organic Research and Extension Initiative, Farmers Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, and Value-Added Producer Grants.

These are investments in the future, including young people, women and minorities who are only now starting ag businesses, and fledgling micro-businesses such as mom-and-pop farms, organic farms and specialty growers.

Small, local, sustainable organic farms could be a huge boost to Mississippi’s economic health and self-sufficiency.

Carol Rives, Master Gardener will speak at the Madison Library on Friday, Oct. 22 at 10 a.m., 994 Madison Avenue, Madison. It’s free. For more information, call (601) 856-2749.

Online

High Tunnel Info from National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: http://attra.ncat.org /calendar/question.php/2007/07/30/what_can_you_tell_me_about_hoop_house_or

High Tunnels Extend Minn. Growing Season: http://bit.ly/drz8RV

Contact Jim Ewing on Twitter @OrganicWriter, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc.

quick tip

At this time of year, local stores are often selling wheelbarrows and heirloom garden plants at a discount. Why not take advantage of both? Fill your wheelbarrow with plants and soil. At frost, wheel it into the garage or other protected place, for greens well into cold weather months. In spring, dump the soil in your garden, or use it for tomato starts.

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