Johnny's Top 5 tips for extending your growing season in cool weather
1. In a high tunnel, direct seed spinach, lettuce, and greens as soon as day length exceeds 10 hours (January in the South, February in the North.) Cover the beds with row cover on hoops for extra frost protection. If you don't have a high tunnel, make a low tunnel of hoops covered with greenhouse poly and plant spinach, Asian greens, mache, and onions as soon as the soil can be worked.
2. In January or February, seed leeks in a greenhouse or cold frame. When the plants are about 10 inches tall, transplant them to a low tunnel covered with greenhouse poly or row cover. Using a dibble, make holes about 6 to 8 inches deep, six inches apart, and drop in the leek plants. Don't firm the soil, but let rain or irrigation wash into the dibble holes.
3. Keep a wide piece of heavy row cover on hand in case of early frosts on unprotected crops. A single piece can be pulled over multiple beds quickly. Once the crop has been harvested, roll or fold the row cover, put it in a plastic bag with a drawstring, and hang from rafters to keep mice out.
4. In the hoophouse, plant spinach and carrots to harvest all winter. Spinach will keep growing even in the short days of winter, so the young leaves can be picked repeatedly. Carrots will grow to maturity in fall, but can be left in the ground to harvest as needed. Both will be crisp and sweet from the cold weather.
5. Plant a crop of overwintering spinach in low tunnels covered with row cover and, later, with poly. Seed spinach before the first frost and the plants will reach 3 to 4 inches in diameter before winter cold stops their growth. They will resume growth in late winter and be a month earlier than spring-sown spinach.
-- Lynn Byczynski