It’s always exciting waiting for that first fresh crop of strawberries to ripen at the start of summer. Or picking the first juicy tomato straight off the vine. For many gardeners (including us here at Gardening Express), it’s the most rewarding stage of the process. After all the hard you’ve work put in to grow your fruit and vegetables, you can now make use of your produce. But what is to be done after the season ends? What if you still want to produce your own squash, lettuce, or peas to cut costs and experiment with your recipes? Well, there are several techniques you can employ to extend the growing season.
From succession planting to using row covers, even in our chilly UK climate, we can still enjoy the taste of fresh produce even as the weather cools. Read on to discover the top five techniques we recommend to gardeners looking to extend the harvest season.
A greenhouse is one of the best, most popular methods to extend the season. They produce optimal growing conditions for a range of fruit and veg, allowing you to have a continuous supply of radishes, tomatoes and other heat-loving plants. The temperature can be regulated and the environment controlled, making it a great choice to grow a range of plants during the colder months. Especially with our somewhat unpredictable UK conditions.
Greenhouses come in a range of shapes and sizes. You can purchase one outright or even make your own. However, a cold frame would also work well if you have limited garden space. Essentially a miniature greenhouse, a cold frame has a wooden base kept low to the ground and a transparent top that traps heat from the sun. With both methods, you can grow fruit and veggies all year long, no matter how cold it gets. However, with a larger greenhouse with access to an irrigation and air conditioning system, you’ll have much better control over the growing environment. So, if your budget (and space) allows it, we recommend opting for a full greenhouse if you are serious about prolonging your season.
To learn more about greenhouse gardening, you can check out our post on the subject located on our knowledge hub.
2. Use coverings
A more cost-effective option when compared to splashing out on a greenhouse, investing in some good coverings is yet another way to extend the life of your plants. Shielding your plants from harsh winter conditions like wind, sleet, and snow is crucial if you want to keep your garden (and your fruit and veggies) in good shape late in the season.
While coverings won’t raise the temperature to allow you to grow peppers or other heat-loving plants, they will protect your cool-season crops from any damage. Row coverings are particularly useful. Essentially, they are a garden fabric that can be draped over your raised beds or fixed in position using multiple plastic hoops, creating a mini hoop house. Easy to use, it allows rain to pass through, keeping your plants hydrated while shielding them from the worst of the blustery winter conditions.
Affixing them is easy if using raised beds. This is also why we recommend opting for raised beds when creating your vegetable garden. As the plants are kept elevated, the soil will dry quicker and warm much faster than if it was at ground level. Plus, they make it much easier to cover delicate plants as the first frost date approaches.
3. Succession planting
Succession planting is the term used to describe planting crops at different intervals to allow for a continuous harvest. By staggering the dates of when you sow your plants, you can take advantage of different planting windows and prolong the season. Not only will this process allow you to keep a steady stream of delicious fruits and veggies on hand, but it is also a great space saver. You can use the same patch of soil for these repeated plantings. So, whether you repeatedly plant the same crop or switch it up by planting different plants, you can grow them all in the same space.
Although this technique may seem daunting at first, it should be a breeze if you stay organised. We recommend keeping detailed notes in a garden journal to help you plan when to plant and harvest. You’ll also want to ensure that you take good care of your soil during this process, regularly watering and composting. It’s also important to note that you’ll need to ensure that you choose suitable succession crops. For instance, you may want to plant some fast growers (like lettuce) early in the season and then opt for some slower-growing plants (like carrots) that can be harvested into the colder months.
4. Windowsill gardening
A simple, effective way to extend your growing season. Windowsill gardening allows you to keep different crops inside, shielded from harsh conditions. This means your garden can go on producing even during the coldest months. This technique also allows you to utilise your space. You can keep larger crops outside while growing smaller fruits and veggies inside. Windowsill gardening works best with leafy greens like kale, as well as herbs. These plants can be grown from small pots or containers.
5. Correct maintenance & care
Finally, it’s important never to underestimate the value of proper maintenance and care when the goal is to extend the growing season. There are several simple practices you can put in place to help improve soil and keep plants growing for longer. These practices include:
Key for helping regulate the temperature of your soil, mulching acts as an insulated layer keeping the soil cool during the summer and warm during the winter months. This creates more favourable conditions for your plants, allowing you to extend the season by starting to grow earlier in spring, throughout the summer and well into winter. Mulching with a layer of compost also helps retain moisture, making watering more effective and promoting healthy growth.
Weeds compete with your crops for water and nutrients and restrict the airflow and light penetration they receive. This can be incredibly damaging and is considered a threat when extending your garden growth. So, it’s essential to protect your plants by regularly weeding the areas where your crops are planted. Keeping your garden free from weeds in itself may not extend your growing season. Still, without it, you may prematurely damage your crops, causing them to fail before they can be harvested.
Disease & pest management
Pest and disease management is critical at all stages of plant growth. You’ll need to keep a close eye on your crops, from sowing your seedlings all the way through to harvest time. Signs that your plant may be infected by either a disease or pests include:
- Stunted leaves, stems or fruits
- Yellowing or wilted leaves
- Discoloured spots on leaves or fruits
- Wilting or drooping plants
- Mould or powdery mildew present on your plants
There are many ways to prevent or remedy the effects of diseases and pests. For instance, properly spacing out your plants to prevent diseases from spreading or creating natural pesticides to spray onto your plants. For more information on how to manage pests, you can check out our previous posts on our knowledge hub.
We hope you’ve gathered all the information you need to extend your harvest and grow crops well beyond the summer. If you’re ready for inspiration on what to plant, check out our fantastic fruit and vegetable plants online. Or, learn even more ways to make your garden great by checking out our knowledge hub. Plus, don’t hesitate to contact us on social media (@gardeningexpress). We would love to hear from you!