Shelter Me: Keeping the Kitchen Garden Warm and Productive as Temps Drop…

Basil and Calendula cozy up beneath a misty dome in my garden…

The first frost of autumn sparkled on my lawn when I awoke Saturday morning. And although it wasn’t a true ‘killing-frost’ —the morning glories slipped right through Jack’s chilly hands— a few things were nipped here and there in my potager. Most of my tender crops are now covered with hoop-house cold-frames —mainly tomatoes, peppers, basil and other herbs— and later, the cool-season crops like spinach and lettuce will be covered as well…

Tomatoes, ripening inside the hoop-house cold-frame in October, are safe from Old Jack Frost

Beneath greenhouse-grade plastic, purple and green basil, tomatoes and other herbs are protected from chilly nights, and given a ripening-boost during the day

I will be enjoying these ‘Lemon Boy’ tomatoes soon —not fried and not green (though that IS an excellent way to use them up!)

Last year I posted a tutorial on building hoop-house style cold frames, and if you have a free afternoon and some basic carpentry tools, I encourage you to give them a try (click to here to see tutorial post). I now have four hoop-houses in use, and although these miniature-greenhouses are unheated, they actually get quite toasty inside during the day, and the temperatures stay well-above freezing overnight. To keep things from getting too hot, the temperature inside each of my hoop-houses is moderated with a easy-to-install, automatic back-vent. Of course later in the autumn, unless I provide supplemental heat, these tomatoes will eventually succumb to overnight cold. But other crops —including lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, chard and broccoli— can make it straight through the Winter Solstice in an unheated hoop-house (and even beyond in some years)!

There are many other ways to extend the vegetable growing season in cold climates, and I will continue posting ideas on how to stretch that post-frost ‘Indian Summer’ for as long as possible. Also, keep in mind that even if you don’t fancy the idea of a building project yourself, you can easily purchase cold frames, kits and other garden shelters from companies like Gardener’s Supply Company online.

Have you had a killin’ frost in your area? Do you try to keep things going past the freeze?

Sungold and bright red cherry tomatoes will continue to ripen beneath the plastic, well past the hard-frost

A hoop-house protects tender vegetables in my fall vegetable garden, while cold-weather crops remain uncovered.

Still Glorious – ‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glories in the Potager, October 11th


Article and photographs â“’ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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3 Replies to “Shelter Me: Keeping the Kitchen Garden Warm and Productive as Temps Drop…”

  1. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Hi Michaela, Love the “underwater” look of your veggies under cover and the dreamy light of the shots taken inside the hoop houses. Although we haven’t, as yet, built a hoop house it’s definitely on the (endless) to-do list. So until then I satisfy myself with pulling the potted things up under the overhanging roof on the sunny side of the house and wait for the ripening hordes of tomatoes still coming along. They are so beautiful still: showing no sign whatsoever that we are so far into the fall.
    A real frost is expected tomorrow, so the remainder of the houseplants must finally come inside.
    Speaking of which… I had three potted amaryllis bulbs, from various Christmases past, which wanted to grow this year, so they spent the summer out on the front porch. Do you think they’ll go into dormancy on their own if I just keep cutting back on the watering? (There’s been no fertilizing since August.) And, here’s the big one, is there enough time of rest between now and Christmas for them to come back again, or have I missed it? (Not that the timing is all that critical, I’d enjoy them just as much even after the holidays!)
    Hope you enjoyed that great weather over the weekend! Thanks, Deb xo

  2. John Miller

    Unfortunately you are running a little late if you want your Amaryllis to bloom for Christmas. By now you should have cut the water back to the point where the plant will be showing a sign of dormancy- yellow leaves (you are mimicing their natural growth, many South African plants go dormant in summer as rain fall levels decrease). It is at this point that you can trim the leaves and let the bulb go totally dormant. The process to get to that point should be about a month. Then let the bulbs rest for no less than six weeks with two months being optimum.
    Once you re-start the plant into growth what you have to avoid is the temptation to rush its flowering by providing too high a temperature. Far too high will cause the buds to abort and even a slightly higher than optimum temperature (55-65F) will cause the flower stem to etiolate and not support the weight of the blooms and flop over- I’ve been there, it is a truly sorry sight (a stout cane was commandered to help but it didn’t really look attractive even then)!

  3. Lynda S

    Michaela, I have been playing with ideas to help warm things a bit more when our winter gets going here. We don’t get a lot of ice and snow normally, but last year was a zinger! Lots of freezing weather, and snow, and some days we never broke freezing as a daytime temperature! Here are my ideas:

    1. Put black plastic around the base of the raised beds to help catch solar heat and radiate it into the soil.
    2. Make a double hoop house. In other words, one inside the other to create an air pocket for extra insulation.

    Your thoughts???

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