Make smart use of your garden space by thinking vertically. Beat the frost in the fall for extra weeks of harvest. Use your garden footage to its best advantage. Cold air sinks, so frost settles first in the lowest areas of your garden. Ground frost does not translate to frost even a foot or two higher in the garden.
Use Your Fences
Grow vining Italian summer squash such as Zuccino Rampicante on your garden fences and harvest the hanging fruits into late fall. I brought my last zucchini in this year on November 8th even though we had a heavy frost each night for the week prior.
Plant fall peas on another fence for a spring-like harvest after the weather has turned quite cold. Cover the roots of all vegetables grown this way with some loose straw to keep them warm.
Use Old Plants
Snap peas grow tall on old corn plants that you’ve left in the garden after summer harvest. Tuck the seeds in around the roots of the old corn stalks and let the peas twine their way up towards the sun and away from frost.
Use Your Topography
My garden isn’t level and I’ll bet yours isn’t either. Several of my raised beds are at a higher elevation than the rest by a couple of feet. Dig frost channels into your higher beds to allow cold air to drain off the beds in the fall. Winter radishes, turnips, and beets will thrive into frost weather without their tops suffering by planting them in these frost resistant beds.
Use The Sun
Know which parts of your garden receive the longest afternoon sun in the fall. The ground in these areas will soak up that warmth and release it during the night which delays frost. Plant cabbages there so that they don’t get frost damaged quite so easily.
Use Your Garden Debris
Hopefully you’ve used your old garden plants to make a straw bale compost bin in your garden. This bin will now be putting off heat from all the composting that is taking place. And it is several feet higher than the rest of your garden. Royalty Purple Bush Beans (already more cold tolerant than other beans) can provide a good harvest into November, benefiting from the warmth created at their feet.
Sweet and hot peppers planted directly into the composting bin will also provide a fall harvest as the heat from the pile wafts up the plant keeping the fruit at a higher temperature than the lower garden.
Winter hardy lettuce planted into the compost pile should keep producing until the temperatures drop below 20. Swiss chard planted in the pile may still be growing new leaves when your temperatures drop into the low teens.
Winter Is the Time for Planning
Even though planting is over for this year, it’s the perfect time to scope out your garden each morning to see where frost settles first. Map your garden for frost pockets, dig frost channels, and plan out where to plant your late fall crop next year. Decide where you’ll build a straw bale compost bin, and install fencing in small sections between posts throughout the garden, not just surrounding it.
Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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