Pennsylvania gardener and blogger Kenny Point
* As part of our ongoing Stretch Gardening series, we have invited some of our favorite garden bloggers to contribute to the Garden Club. This week we feature Kenny Point, of Veggie Gardening Tips, who shows us how to choose the right veggies for a longer-lasting garden… *
There are lots of benefits to gain by stretching the growing season, but you won’t get very far unless you start by choosing the ideal plants and the right techniques for your region. Here is a list of my favorite vegetable crops for gardening well beyond the typical spring and summer growing periods!
I love to grow kale and collards because they are both delicious and super nutritious, but when it comes to stretching the growing season they excel in that regard also. Start them in early spring and they will grow from March until well past the first frosts and freezes of autumn. If you harvest only the lower and outer leaves, and allow the central leaves and tip to continue to growing, you will be rewarded with continuous harvests the entire season.
These are two more leafy greens that help lengthen production by offering a rapid harvest from early seed sowings. I plant them in early spring and again as a fall crop. You can sow the seed every couple of weeks and harvest individual leaves for a continuous harvest, or cut the entire plant to within an inch of the ground and leave the roots in place to re-sprout for additional harvests.
You may think the short eight week harvesting window for asparagus disqualifies it as a season extender, but there is a little trick that you can use. While you do have to limit your harvest period to let the roots to store up energy, you don’t have to harvest all the asparagus in the spring. Instead, mark and let some of the plants grow into ferns in the spring. Cut these back later in the summer or early fall, and then take a six to eight week harvest from the new spears that come up as a late crop.
I start root vegetables like carrots, beets, and parsnips later than many gardeners because I consider them more as a late season crop and want them to mature later for easier storage. This makes it easier to harvest fresh root vegetables during summer and throughout the fall months. These types of root crops are also perfect for storing in makeshift root cellars or right out in the garden by covering with thick layers of shredded leaves.
It’s November and we’ve seen snow flurries already here in Central Pennsylvania but that hasn’t kept me out of the garden. Garlic, shallots, Elephant garlic, and potato onions all made their way into the garden over the past two weeks. Fall planted garlic will get established and send down root growth before the plants decide to hibernate over the winter. Then at the first sign of spring’s arrival they will send up leaf growth and enjoy a huge lead over spring planted garlic or onions!
Over Wintered Veggies
Many vegetables are over wintered in my gardens and go from providing summer and fall produce, to being among the first crops harvested in early spring! Kale, collards, mustard, and leeks will all easily survive the winters in my zone 6 region without protection of any sort, while arugula, sprouting broccolis, chard, and lettuces can be protected in cold frames or under mulches. As spring returns they will resume growth and continue their production until they run to seed in late spring or early summer.
An assortment of cover crops are used by many organic gardeners to protect their garden beds over the fall and winter months. Late summer or fall plantings of cover crops are valued for improving the soil but aren’t considered as an edible addition to the home garden. You can change that by substituting crops like kale, mustards, and radishes in place of the winter ryes, oats, and wheat that the farmers prefer. Even if started late these hardy, edible, cover crops will grow quickly, provide a harvest of micro-greens, and then protect the soil over winter.
I’ll admit that it does get bleak at times, and as hard as I may try, things begin to look barren out in the garden by January! That is when I cheat and simply bring the food production indoors for a while. Jars of sprouts, flats of micro-greens, and even pots of forced garlic, onion, and pea shoots all help to shake off those winter blues and maintain at least a touch of greenery in the house, and some nutritious, fresh, produce in the kitchen.
There isn’t any gardening to be done outside in the middle of winter, is there? Sure there is. You can get out and harvest a few hardwood trees that you will use in early spring to inoculate with the spawn of edible mushrooms such as shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Once the logs are inoculated and colonized they will fruit for years and provide you with lots of gourmet mushrooms, especially during early spring and late fall when fresh produce is at a premium!
Right about that time in late February when I start looking for that fall planted garlic to sprout, I will also begin germinating seeds indoors to transplant outside in spring. That is when ginger comes in handy to stretch the seasons, because it can be pre-sprouted in late winter, potted up as spring arrives, and transplanted into the garden after the soil warms up. From there ginger will grow over a long season and yield beautiful and delicious baby ginger in late fall.
Regardless of where you live, there are plants and techniques that will let you stretch your growing period so you can cultivate and enjoy the benefits of gardening through every season!
Kenny Point is an organic gardener on a mission to encourage others to grow their own back yard garden. After college Kenny pursued his interest in gardening by spending several years managing a forty acre organic farm in Pennsylvania. His focus is on ornamental edibles, heirloom vegetables, edible weeds and medicinal wild plants. Kenny shares his ideas and experiences in the garden at Veggie Gardening Tips.
Images courtesy of Kenny Point