Tag Archives: four-seasons gardening

Four-Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Sept. 26, 2012
Four Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Now that you are either tending or contemplating a fall garden for freshly grown, organic crops, you might consider four-season farming for year-round food. If the weather cooperates, it can be fairly easy—and can be done even in the urban setting of a small yard or next to a patio.

Today, because of industrial agriculture, we think that farming is all done out in rural areas and large tracts of land, but that actually is counter to historical fact.

In America’s cities across the land prior to the mechanization of farming following World War II, small plots of land were located throughout population centers—complete with chickens and livestock! This was common in most urban areas globally. For example, Paris at one time devoted 6 percent of land to food production and produced 100 percent of its fresh vegetables.

One of the more popular methods of growing during winter was to heap horse manure and then build an enclosed structure on top of it for growing. Called a “hot house,” the removable top kept vegetables protected from the elements while the decaying manure provided heat from below.

Today, horse manure in cities is no longer an abundant, cheap source of soil fertility. Moreover, for health reasons regarding soil and plant contamination, I wouldn’t recommend trying to recreate such methods using uncomposted manure as a heat source without thorough study of safe designs. However, modern urban farmers—as well as homesteaders, suburbanites and rural folks wanting easy access to homegrown food—can nearly match that production by using cold frames.

Simply stated, a cold frame is a box similar to a 4-foot by 8-foot “Jim’s plot” but has a removable, clear glass or plastic top. Consider it a mini-greenhouse. Just make sure to vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

Cold frames can be simple DIY projects, such as planting between a few square bales of hay and recycling old windows or shower doors as the removable tops. You can also purchase pre-made kits from local garden stores or online.

You can build a cold frame anywhere; just make sure it has southern sun exposure. Even a small frame can produce a lot of leafy vegetables if you correctly prune them: Pick old leaves first, in effect pruning the plant so that its energy goes into new leaves.

If you have more space, here’s another option using the same principle that can contain more crops. Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, work by using layers of plastic to trap warmer daytime air inside and minimize heat loss from the system at night. They don’t have to be big or towering affairs. You can bend plastic pipes over metal rebar spikes pounded into the ground and cover them with plastic.

Hoop houses can range from small tunnels—perhaps 3 feet tall and any length you prefer—to large edifices that you can make portable with wheels. You can even pull them with a tractor to rotate crops.

For more information on hoop houses, visit msucares.com/crops/hightunnels/index.html.

Growers in Mississippi who use high tunnels will be meeting to share tips at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association conference in Jackson Nov. 28-29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. For more info, visit msfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.com. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.msstate.edu

For winter growing info, read “Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long” by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, 1992, $24.95).

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Advertisements

Four-seasons gardening

Nov. 4, 2011
Hoop houses extend organic garden to 4 seasons
Some hardy growers, no doubt, are wondering how to extend their production into the winter.
Four-season gardening is a pastime that’s growing nationally, and you don’t have to live in a tropical area to do it.
Locally, the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service has been experimenting with hoop houses, and Bill Evans has produced some great results.
That includes producing succulent, red tomatoes when there’s frost outside. This is not from a “hot house,” or heated greenhouse, but from plastic hoop houses outdoors.
Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, work by using layers of plastic to trap warmer daytime air inside and minimize heat loss from the system at night. They don’t have to be big or towering affairs. You can bend plastic pipes over metal rebar spikes pounded into the ground and covered by plastic.
For details, visithttp://www.dafvm.msstate.edu/landmarks/09/spring/25.pdf. Or, Google high tunnels and frames and look at the photos.
The key to winter growing is recognizing which plants will grow in different conditions.
For example, my wife Annette planted carrots in our cold frames, which are glass or plastic boxes outdoors that use sunlight during the winter to stay warm. Just make sure and vent the glass during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed and they’ll retain heat.
Carrots are slow growers when the days are short (the hours of daylight makes a bigger difference than temperature for some plants); so we’ll – hopefully – have lots of carrots this spring.
Withstanding a freeze: Some plants will grow quite well even in bitterly cold conditions.
For example, last year, I was digging turnips through January and harvesting mustard greens. Some days, the plants would be bowed over and covered with a glaze of ice. Surely they were dead, I thought. But no, once the sun came over the trees, the ice would melt, and steaming in the sunlight, they would straighten up.
Kale for example, can survive cold down to about 20 degrees. Brussel sprouts, cabbages, radishes and beets – along with mustards and collards – can survive cold temps because they actually have antifreeze proteins that allow them to survive below freezing. But they have to get roots established and develop hardiness first.
Winter growing is limited by this fact: Greens require 28 degrees to grow. So, if you’ve got 10 weeks or so above 28 degrees, you can grow greens. (See: http://msucares.com/crops/comhort/greens.html.)
Beyond that, if you have a hoop house, high tunnel or cold frame, you can extend the season.
One trick we learned with our unheated greenhouse is to plant the greens, then when temps go down, cover them in Agribon. That way, they get the benefit of the trapped greenhouse heat, as well as protection from frost within the greenhouse.
This way, you can continue to grow down to about 22 degrees. Below that, you have to provide heating.
A good book on the subject is The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, 2009, $29.95).
High tunnels: Mississippi State University sponsors workshops on building high tunnels. For details, visit http://msucares.com/crops/hightunnels/news.html or contact Dr. Mengmeng Gu at (662) 325-1682 or mgu@pss. msstate.edu.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.