Garden Know-How: Extend Your Growing Season

Learning a few season extension techniques can help you start your garden up to six weeks earlier and enjoy fresh food sooner.

  • Garden Tunnel
    Plastic-covered tunnels make perfect mini-greenhouses for early spring planting.
    Phtoto courtesy ROBIN WIMBISCUS
  • Solar Hot Water Bottles
    Water-filled containers painted flat black absorb solar warmth during the day and release it at night, so they are worthwhile additions to your season-stretching toolbox.
    Phtoto courtesy ROBIN WIMBISCUS
  • Mini-Greenhouse
    Straw or hay bales can easily be combined with an old window to make a nifty cold frame.
    Phtoto courtesy ROBIN WIMBISCUS
  • Wall O Waters
    Wall O’ Waters are circular cloches, 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide, made of connected, translucent plastic tubes that you fill with water. They absorb and store daytime warmth and moderate cold while providing dependable wind protection.
    Phtoto courtesy WALTER CHANDOHA

  • Garden Tunnel
  • Solar Hot Water Bottles
  • Mini-Greenhouse
  • Wall O Waters

As late winter days lengthen, resourceful gardeners scurry to collect cloches, erect plastic-covered tunnels and put together a workable cold frame. Using season-stretching devices such as these can add four to six weeks to the front end of your growing season (and many of them will be handy again in the fall).

You can make an amazing array of season-stretching garden gear from found or recycled materials, and you won’t have to rely on electric grow lights to get delectable spring greens in time for Easter or have the first ripe tomatoes on your block. Creating season-extending equipment is fun because you’re working with free solar energy. The trick is to come up with simple structures that can withstand strong winds, shed rain and snow, and absorb and store solar warmth for the plants you’re protecting.

Physical shelter from blustery weather will help any plant, but cool-natured plants such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage-family crops don’t need as much heat as tender tomatoes or peppers — especially at night. Simple plastic cloches or plastic-covered cold frames raise nighttime temperatures 4 to 5 degrees, but you can double that number by throwing on an insulating blanket in the evening. Or triple the protection by adding black water bottles, which release stored daytime warmth after the sun goes down.

Try Creative Cloches

Low, transparent individual plant protectors, called cloches, are the season-stretchers of choice for plants spaced more than 8 inches apart, such as tomatoes and peppers. Most gardeners keep a stash of cloches made from translucent plastic milk jugs or clear plastic bottles. I pick up roomy plastic juice jugs with handles at my local recycling center.


Before cutting off the bottom of any jug, I make a vee-shaped slit in the top of the handle. Later, I can shove a long, slender stick through the slit and down into the soil to help hold the cloche steady in the wind.

4/16/2015 11:37:32 AM

My husband and i are trying to figure out what to grow in our new greenhouse during the very hot august heat. I've heard okra loves the heat? We constructed a nice greenhouse from and we are just trying to plan out out summer season. My husband is leaving the research up to me, lol ! Anyway, I LOVE your magazine and site. Thank you! Theresa Filman

Ronald Ellis
11/8/2010 11:40:38 AM

Here in south-central Alabama we worry less about frost and more about insects, which because of the warm weather are with us most of the year. In the fall, cabbage worms and their mothers (yellow butterflies)are constantly on the move. So, my low greenhouse is covered with super lightweight row covers to prevent the butterfly from laying her eggs on my collards and cabbages. For decades now I've built my low greenhouses of half-inch, schedule 40 PVC pipe. I drive steel rebar in the ground to hold the pipe hoops in place. Once row cover fabric is on I use bungee cords to hold it down, and it works even when we have hurricane force winds. If anyone wants a step-by-step pictorial tutorial, go to my blog: Mother Earth News was a revolution when it was first launched, and continues to be such today. Thanks for all that you do.

L A Graham
8/30/2010 2:06:01 PM

I had some old vinyl portable storage closets that I converted into mini-greenhouses. They were ideal because the "door" zips open from across the top and down, so I could unzip it a short ways and the heat would escape through the open part of the door. The top is black fabric, so in dry weather it absorbs the heat well; when wet weather is due, during cold weather I cover the top with weighed-down sheet plastic and in warm weather just leave the fabric uncovered and let the rainwater seep through to the plants. This is working for me much better than the mini-greenhouses that I bought at a clearance center; they had no vents and the plants were frying. I removed the covers from those frames, which included wire shelves, and set the framework and shelves inside the closets.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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