How To Extend Your Growing Season

Embarking on the journey of growing your own food is a gratifying and essential experience for many. However, Mother Nature often likes to throw us a curve ball in the form of unpredictable weather conditions.

One of the greatest challenges faced by growers is the chilling embrace of cold temperatures during critical stages of the growing season. Picture this: pepper plants stubbornly refuse to bear fruit if the nighttime thermometer dips below the 60°F mark. And in the vast realm of climates, tomatoes demand a few extra weeks of warmth that nature may not generously provide.

But fret not! Regardless of your geographical location, a multitude of options await to shield your precious vegetables from the perils of frost and freezing temperatures. These options come in diverse shapes and sizes, each serving the noble purpose of preserving your crops’ survival.

Whether you opt for the towering grandeur of high tunnels, the humble embrace of low tunnels, the enchanting curvature of geodomes, or the practicality of cold frames, these season extension structures can be the ultimate game-changer between a bountiful harvest and a crop’s unfortunate demise.

Unveiling the Secrets of Season Extension Structures

The art of extending your growing season relies on a fundamental principle shared by all season extension structures: harnessing the power of sunlight to warm the air and soil in your garden. Unlike greenhouses that rely on supplemental heat sources like gas or electric-powered heaters, these structures operate solely on the energy of the sun.

Consequently, they offer a lower level of frost protection in frigid temperatures compared to heated greenhouses. As you embark on building your chosen structure, it is crucial to ensure its suitability for the specific crops and environmental conditions you are cultivating. After all, the structure needed to safeguard towering plants like corn or tomatoes will differ greatly from one designed to shelter low-growing produce such as lettuce and carrots.

Moreover, larger structures possess the advantage of capturing more heat, making them an excellent choice for colder regions.

Exploring the Array of Outbuildings

High Tunnels:

Among the mighty warriors of season extension structures, high tunnels stand tall. These spacious havens provide ample room for both work and the cultivation of larger crops. Typically measuring 10 to 12 feet in width and 16 to 20 feet in length, high tunnels can also be customized to fit larger or smaller dimensions.

These versatile structures can be fashioned in either hoop or Gothic designs. Hoops, resembling elegant semicircles, can be constructed using materials like PVC pipes or metal. In contrast, Gothic designs flaunt angular sides and can be built with sturdy wood or other less flexible materials. Whether you opt for hoops or Gothic, both designs are well-suited for cultivating plants.

However, take note that certain designs and construction materials may offer better resilience against challenging weather events such as wind or heavy snowfall. High tunnels are spacious enough to incorporate doors for convenient access.

To ensure proper ventilation, solar fans, roll-up sides, and opening doors are employed. In some cases, high tunnels are even constructed on rollers, facilitating their mobility across different areas and enabling various crops to be covered during different stages of the growing season.


extemdomg the growing season using a geodome

Geodomes are another formidable category of season extension structures, known for their ability to withstand gusty winds and heavy snowfall. These remarkable structures showcase the timeless beauty of domes and come in a wide array of sizes and designs.

Whether crafted from wood, metal, or a combination of both, geodomes offer durability and flexibility. For the covering, polycarbonate sheets or greenhouse-type plastics are commonly utilized. While a single door is the prevalent design feature, larger geodomes can accommodate multiple entrances. Ventilation is achieved through the integration of solar fans, windows, and doors.

Low Tunnels:

In the realm of season extension structures, low tunnels emerge as the compact counterparts of their towering kin, the high tunnels. Standing at heights ranging from 2 to 6 feet, low tunnels are available in both semicircle and Gothic designs. Some models even incorporate hinges, allowing them to be effortlessly lifted and placed over small raised garden beds.

For added versatility, certain portions of the tunnel can be pulled back or uncovered to facilitate ventilation and ease of tending to the garden bed. The world of low tunnel designs and construction materials is brimming with countless possibilities, ensuring a tailored fit for your specific needs.

Cold Frames:

Cold frames, the petite darlings of season extension structures, enchant with their minimalistic charm. These structures are often constructed using materials such as wood, old windows, or polycarbonate. Frames can take the shape of large boxes or resemble the entrances to outdoor crawlspaces or tornado shelters.

However, keep in mind that cold frames are best suited for smaller crops and find their perfect spot in compact areas like backyard gardens. Caution should be exercised when working near cold frames constructed with old windows, as broken glass can pose a danger. Additionally, it is advisable to keep pets and children away from them to prevent accidental breakage.

Unveiling the Versatility

When it comes to constructing season extension structures, the building materials required can be easily obtained from local hardware stores. These structures can be crafted using a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, glass, or different types of metal. In fact, some ingenious structures can even be assembled using repurposed items you may have lying around your house or workshop.

As mentioned earlier, cold frames often find their form by giving new life to old windows. Depending on the desired style, some of these structures can be more budget-friendly compared to those resembling traditional greenhouses.

To simplify the construction process, kits are available that provide all the necessary components. As for the covers, most season extension structures utilize either flexible plastic or rigid polycarbonate materials. Flexible plastics offer a range of features, such as varying thicknesses, light transmission ratings, and UV resistance.

Certain types are also compatible with PVC materials, commonly used for structural support, or feature anti-condensation properties. Larger greenhouse and gardening supply stores offer a wide selection of flexible plastic materials, which can vary in price.

Alternatively, you can find affordable clear film options at local hardware stores, although they often lack UV resistance and typically last for only one year. For more robust options, rigid polycarbonate sheets with air pockets between two walls can be obtained from reputable gardening suppliers.

These sheets are commonly used in the construction of Gothic-style structures or geodomes, and are available in various sizes, thicknesses, strength and durability levels, as well as light transmission ratings.


Beyond Protection: Added Benefits

Season extension structures provide more than just cold temperature protection. They also serve as a shield against early and late snowstorms, mitigating the impact of hail on your crops. Placing structures perpendicular to prevailing winds can effectively block storms that may cause damage to your plants.

Furthermore, the added protection helps reduce water loss, particularly in arid environments. Most structure types feature openings for ventilation and heat release. Even when these openings are in use, the majority of crops within the structure still benefit from protection.

Planting and Nurturing: Maximizing Growth Potential

Season extension structures prove especially valuable for nurturing young plants and seedlings, creating an optimal growing environment with warm temperatures, abundant sunlight, and reduced water loss. Hence, these structures are particularly advantageous for starting plants early in the growing season. In arid and/or windy environments, they also assist in minimizing water loss from the soil and plants, thereby reducing overall water consumption.

As temperatures rise in spring, ventilation systems can be opened to prevent overheating. However, it is important to remember that some plants may need time to acclimate to their new environment.

Gradually introduce ventilation by initially opening the structures for a few hours and then progressively increasing the duration as the spring growing season progresses. This gradual approach allows plants to adapt gradually and avoids potential shock from prolonged exposure to warmer weather during the early stages of growth.

Unlocking the Full Potential of Season Extension Structures

Larger season extension structures, such as high tunnels or geodomes, offer the versatility to support containers or raised beds within their spacious confines. Growers often opt for containers and raised beds as they provide the ability to segregate different types of plants, and the height can be adjusted for easier access and gardening convenience.

In some cases, containers are even equipped with wheels, allowing for seamless movement in and out of the structures. However, it is crucial to keep in mind the same advice regarding plant acclimation when transitioning containers in and out of structures.

Whether you choose to plant seeds directly into the soil or transplant seedlings and small plants, season extension structures provide a conducive environment for their growth.

Maintaining Optimal Conditions

While season extension structures are excellent for extending the growing season, it’s important to manage excess heat and light. Most designs incorporate features that facilitate the escape of excessive heat and hot air. This becomes especially crucial as some structures can become excessively hot and potentially damage plants if left closed and unattended.

For larger structures housing vegetable crops that prefer cooler temperatures, proper ventilation is essential on bright, sunny spring or fall days when temperatures reach 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local extension office or consult with gardening experts. They possess valuable knowledge and experience, likely offering solutions to any problems you may encounter.

Expanding Possibilities: Going the Extra Mile

going the extra mile with an irrigation system

In addition to the valuable information provided, it’s worth considering a few extra insights. Season extension structures open up new avenues for experimentation and innovation in your gardening endeavors. Here are a few ideas to take your plant plan to the next level:

Irrigation Systems: Incorporate efficient irrigation systems within your season extension structures to ensure consistent watering and moisture control for optimal plant growth. Options range from drip irrigation systems to automated sprinklers, tailored to suit the specific needs of your crops.

Vertical Gardening: Take advantage of the vertical space available within larger structures by implementing trellises, vertical planters, or hanging baskets. Vertical gardening maximizes your growing area and can be particularly beneficial for vining plants such as cucumbers, beans, or tomatoes.

Companion Planting: Explore the concept of companion planting within your season extension structures. By strategically pairing compatible plants, you can promote healthier growth, deter pests, and enhance overall productivity. Research companion planting charts or consult gardening resources to discover suitable plant combinations.

Soil Amendments: Enhance the fertility and structure of your soil by incorporating organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, before planting. These amendments enrich the soil with essential nutrients and improve its water-holding capacity, resulting in healthier plants and improved yields.

Remember, gardening is a continuous learning process, and the possibilities within your season extension structures are vast. Experiment, adapt, and enjoy the rewards of a thriving garden, nourished by your dedication and creativity.

Additional resources:

Smart tips for gardening on dry soil

If you see this plant in your backyard, don’t touch it!

How to grow and maintain a drought-resistant garden

The #1 food of Americans during the Great Depression

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