It’s October, and if you’re like me, you’re looking at a bunch of seed packets thinking, “Darn, I hope these are still good to sprout next year.”. I have a bad habit of forgetting about seeds until it’s too late in the season to do anything with them. This year, I’m hoping to change that.
There are so many reasons to try to extend the growing season. You save money by not wasting seeds and by growing your own food, it’s a fun past time when the usual planting season is drawing to a close, and you can test your gardening skills more than the usual amount. Another reason, you may or may not have considered, is that with the unpredictable climate changes we are experiencing world wide, having practice growing in unlikely conditions is very useful. It doesn’t matter if you’re a home gardener in Maine, or a refugee in Jordan, being able to extend and manually adjust your growing season can provide a level of security that you just can’t get from relying on weather alone.
Regardless of how you feel about the subject of global warming, with climate changes even from things like El Niño, weather patterns have a habit of shifting abruptly. Every farmer wishes she could control the seasons at some point, but even if we aren’t able to work weather magic, we can benefit from following some simple and not so simple practices.
Ways to keep your plants warmer
There are several ways to improve the heat retention in your gardens. From cloche’s and greenhouses to mulch and black ground covers, there’s usually something for everyone. The ideas in this guide will help you whether you have one foot or 100 acres.
1. Cold Frames and the Greenhouse Effect
Cold frames are essentially mini greenhouses. They operate on the same principle: using the sun to heat an enclosed area. These boxes are the reason people in the north can grow lettuce in December.
Cold frames really should be called ‘warm frames’. They insulate your plants from the harsh weather and keep their surrounding environment warm enough to grow. The frames can be as big or small as you choose to make them. They are crafted similarly to a raised bed, with walled sides, and they have a transparent insulating cover over top. I’ve seen people use anything from plexiglass, to old windows, to custom made glass tops. You can easily make them from wood you have lying around, or find at a recycling center. People are always looking to get rid of awkward amounts of building supplies left over from projects. Just search your local craigslist.
If you’re in an apartment with little outdoor space, these could be a bit unwieldy for you. Instead, I would suggest a Cloche. These glass bell shaped contraptions go overtop your plant and create individual greenhouses for them. They only fit small pots, but if you have room for big ones you probably have room to craft a cold frame or something similar.
2. Ground Cover and Color
Not everyone realizes that the color of the ground, and the cover itself, has a lot to do with how warm or cool the ground underneath is. For example, in summer, many farmers use white nets to cover rows of crops. This helps to keep the sun off, and is much cooler than using a black net. The reverse applies in winter. Using a dark mulch acts much the same as using a dark cozy blanket. The color absorbs the heat from the sun, and the thickness of the material holds the heat and distributes it back to the blanket wearer (Plants, in this case).
While this method won’t work into the deep cold of winter, it can help add a few weeks to your season. Old bed sheets, blankets, plastic tarps, and specialized garden bed covers all work to retain the heat in the soil.
Ways to Keep Your Plants Cooler
Just how you need to protect plants from the cold, you also need to protect them from excessive heat. Here are a few ways to do just that.
1. Building a Sun Shade
The likely reason your plants are paper white and paper dry? Sun burn. Just like us, plants get sunburnt, and just like us, they need protection if they’re going to be happy. I have yet to try coating my plants in sunscreen, and I can’t say I endorse it either. So instead, when the sun makes us feel like an ant under a magnifying glass, I set up a sun shade.
Sunshades are exactly like they sound. Something set up to block the worst of the sun from reaching your plants. Not all sunshades are created equal, though. The best are translucent material, usually some sort of fabric that allows a small amount of light through. You don’t want to use something completely opaque because your plants need light to grow. The shade also shouldn’t be right on top of your plant. Keeping it close to your plant blocks airflow, and acts a bit like a greenhouse, trapping hot air and basically dry cooking your plants. Keep the shade at least a foot from the top of your precious green baby to make sure you don’t broil it.
I found this quick video to give you an idea of what to do.
2. Mulching and preventing pests
But you just talked about mulch! Yep. Mulching, and ground cover in general, is one of those fantastically versatile cure alls for temperature and moisture loss. When the temperature rockets upward, you might be tempted to over water your plants. DO NOT DO THIS. Overwatering can kill plants faster than under watering. Once your root systems begin to rot, it’s game over for your plant. Instead, use mulch to hold water in the ground on hot days.
Mulch provides a barrier between the water in the ground and the evaporation monsters in the air. It protects them from this evil force that wants to steal all the good moisture you’ve put in to nurture your plant babies. If you are opting for synthetic ground cover instead of traditional mulch, make sure that it’s semipermeable to prevent mold growth on the underside of the cover. If you have a container garden, using small rocks, like the kind you buy for fish tanks, makes a great and attractive top for the plants while still holding in moisture and letting the roots breathe.
Another quick trick for container planting: double up on pots. Adding a second pot, especially with insulation, will help regulate the temperature in the soil and keep your plants happier. Some good insulation ideas are styrofoam, bubble wrap, newspaper, and sand. In a later post I’m going to talk about Zeer pots, but basically, the evaporation from wet sand can cool the inner pot considerably.
** Bonus. Plants stressed by high temperatures are far more susceptible to pests and diseases. Take extra care to clean and sterilize your gardening tools during these times. Also, be on the lookout for the signs of problems. The best time to stop a problem is at the start.
How to Protect Your Plants from A Bi-Polar Season
Sometimes you just can’t tell what’s going to happen in a season. One day it’s bright and sunny and the next day it’s snowing in July. Unpredictable weather is fast becoming the norm, so how do you protect your plants during a volatile season?
Creating A Walipini
What the H E Double Hockey Sticks is that?! you may ask. Well, a Walipini is a type of greenhouse that is partially underground. It comes from Bolivia, where they have very cold weather at times, and the name means “Place of warmth” in the local language. Because they are partially underground, they benefit from the stabilizing effect of the earth. Temperatures tend to stay relatively mild compared to the extremes, and these structures are much more efficient than traditional greenhouses.
I hope you found this article useful, and that you enjoyed reading it. You can find more articles on my blog.