9 Ways to Extend Your Harvest Season
Many gardeners plant in the spring, and harvest most of their crops in August and September. If they want to eat vegetables from their garden the rest of the year, they have to can or freeze most of their harvest.
While my sister and I do preserve some of our crops, we prefer to eat most of our food fresh from the garden, as the quality is much higher and we can avoid the work involved in freezing or canning.
Here are nine methods you can use to extend the harvest season in your garden:
1) Start some seedlings indoors
Many people start seedlings indoors to get an early start in the spring, but you can also use this method to start cool-season crops in the middle of summer, when the heat and bugs make it tough to start young plants outdoors.
2) Use raised garden beds
Garden beds that are slightly higher than the surrounding soil will warm up and dry out faster, and give your plants an earlier start in the spring. They don't need to be tall – even a 2-3” elevation will be enough.
3) Give your plants some protection
Covering your plants with cold frames, row cover, water cloches, or mini hoop tunnels can extend your season 2-4 weeks in the spring and in the fall – or even allow you to harvest fresh vegetables all winter long!
4) Select varieties that better tolerate hot or cold weather
If you want to extend your harvest season, choose varieties that can handle wider temperature ranges, such as tomatoes that tolerate cooler weather, or lettuce that can take the summer heat or the winter cold.
5) Choose varieties that have a longer harvest season
Bush beans finish their harvest in just 3 weeks, but pole beans can produce for 6-8 weeks or longer; zucchini plants often die out quickly, but the vining tromboncino summer squash lasts all season long.
6) Plan staggered plantings in your garden
Plant fast-maturing crops like lettuce, carrots, and bush beans every 2-3 weeks throughout the growing season. Even peas can usually be planted twice in the spring (3-4 weeks apart) and once in mid-summer for a fall harvest.
7) Combine early, mid, and late season varieties
Instead of using a staggered planting, some gardeners will plant an early variety, mid-season, and late variety of corn or garden peas all at the same time in order to extend their harvest season over many weeks.
8) Provide protection in the summer heat
You can sometimes extend the harvest of cool-season crops throughout the summer by giving them extra shade and water; even warm-season crops may produce better in extreme heat if they're given 30-40% shade.
9) Keep crops well-picked
It's important to regularly and thoroughly harvest crops like peas, beans, summer squash, and cucumbers. If any are left to enlarge and ripen on the plant, the plant will focus on producing seeds instead of more fruit.
Feel free to combine several of these methods. For example, you can use all of the following for a summer lettuce crop:
- Choose a heat-tolerant variety
- Start the seeds indoors (lettuce won't germinate in hot soil)
- Provide partial shade and extra water to the lettuce in the garden
- Plant a new crop every week (lettuce bolts very quickly in the heat)
Write a list of the vegetable crops that you really enjoy fresh. Look through the list above, and write down which methods you can use to extend your harvest season for each crop.
Do you have any tips that you'd like to share on how you extend the harvest in your own garden?