Extend your season
By Lynn Byczynski
Protected cultivation — growing with products that moderate the weather — has become an essential component of most horticultural production. Hoophouses, low tunnels, row covers, and mulches are widely used on market farms because of the enormous benefits they offer. You can use these products to harvest earlier in spring and later in fall, extend and stagger the harvest of most crops, improve quality, protect against insect pests, and increase yields.
Most important, protected cultivation strategies can help you spread out your workload over a longer season. That means less stress and burnout in summer’s heat, more enjoyable farming in pleasant weather. The ultimate goal, of course, is to increase revenue. Most growers who have adopted these practices are amazed at how much income they can derive from these inexpensive structures and products.
Protected cultivation adds a level of complexity to a vegetable farm, but it’s a challenge that most growers enjoy. You need to adjust your thinking about many elements of farming. The frost-free date is less important, the day length more important. Large plantings may be replaced by numerous smaller plantings in various environments. You may even start to grow crops that never succeeded for you in the field.
At Johnny’s research farm in Albion, Maine, we are constantly trialing products and varieties to find the best combinations for protected cultivation. You’ll find the products you need on the web and in the catalog. Below, we present 10 ideas for using protected cultivation. These are just suggestions for getting started; as you explore alternatives to field production on your own farm, you are likely to discover new ways to improve your crops, increase your income, and enjoy yourself more.
Top 10 ways to extend your season and increase your profits
- Plant cold-loving crops in a high tunnel in January and February, and cover with row cover on hoops.
- Seed leeks in a cold frame in January or February, and transplant them in a low tunnel as soon as the soil can be worked.
- Plant cool-weather crops in a low tunnel two to three weeks before you plant them unprotected in the field
- Plant cucumbers and tomatoes in a high tunnel a month before field planting.
- Plant eggplant in low tunnels covered with lightweight row cover to protect against flea beetles
- Put shade cloth on hoops in summer and plant heat-tolerant lettuces.
- Put shade cloth on the soil for a week before planting fall crops, to improve germination while the weather is still hot.
- Keep heavy row cover at hand in case of an early frost.
- Plant spinach and carrots in the hoophouse, in enough quantity to harvest throughout the winter.
- Plant spinach in low tunnels to overwinter; it will resume growth in early spring and be the first crop of the new season.