Stretch Your Garden: Tools & Techniques

Lynn Coulter
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Come autumn, we’ll be harvesting apples, potatoes, and fat, orange pumpkins for decorations and pies. But don’t let the drop in the temperatures trick you into giving up on gardening. There are many ways to extend your bounty, so you can grow and preserve your foods and flowers into the fall and early winter. We call this stretch gardening.

First, you need the right tools and techniques. Use our primer, below, to get started. Then check out the articles and projects in our stretch gardening series to learn how to build a cold frame, turn pressed flowers into beautiful, inexpensive gifts, and much more. We’ll help you make the most of your garden until the earth warms up again in spring.

Tools

Our definition of tools is broad; it includes materials and structures that protect plants from frost and low temperatures.

You don’t need all the items on our list, of course. Choose the ones that will help you accomplish your goals, whether you want to keep growing fresh vegetables and flowers for the table, or “put up” foods to enjoy during the coldest months of the year–or both.

  • Cold frames – These structures, topped by glass or plastic and filled with good soil, let you grow plants using the sun’s heat for warmth.

tomatoes in greenhouse

  • Hoop houses – Also called hoop greenhouses, these are made by attaching heavy plastic over a row of hoops. Hoops may be made of wood, metal, or flexible pipes. 
  • Row covers – Usually made of polypropylene fabric, row covers are lightweight “blankets” that are draped over plants and held down with rocks or clips.
  • Burlap fabric – Burlap is porous enough to allow water and air to get through, but strong enough to give light protection from freezing rain and ice.
  • Mulch – Straw, shredded cypress, bark chips, and even shredded rubber help insulate or cover plants.
  • Windbreak netting – Although shade cloths are typically used to shade plants from the sun, some can be attached to upright posts to help block the wind. Weedblock fabric can be tied to chain link fences for the same purpose.
  • Greenhouses – These structures can be heated, unheated, or minimally heated. Choose a pop-up style if you don’t need a permanent structure.

Techniques

  • Planting cold-hardy vegetable varieties
  • Succession planting (staggering your planting times to keep fresh produce coming in)
  • Drying and pressing flowers and foliage
  • Drying fruits and vegetables
  • Canning foods in a water bath
  • Preserving crops in a root cellar

Remember, check out our stretch gardening series to learn more about these topics.

Ready to get started? If you’re not already signed up to receive the Garden Club newsletter, now’s the time to join.

Image of wheelbarrow and harvest: Shutterstock/Iakov Filimonov

Image of tomatoes in greenhouse: Shutterstock/Kingan

 

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