Raise Your Food

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Fall Gardening in the Snow Zone

Written By: Julie - Sep• 15•13

fall gardening broccoliFall is almost here and for those of us in the snow zone it is a less than welcome harbinger of winter. Fall gardening is a perfect way to extend your garden’s harvest and keep your family in fresh greens throughout the coming months. We are in zone 6 – but due to our elevation (4,500 feet above sea level) it is possible to have a frost or snow fall in almost any month of the year. I have seen it snow here in June and our first snowfall is often in October but can be as early as September. Needless to say, fall and winter gardening here require some extra protection for our crops.

If you are lucky enough to be in a warmer zone, you can extend your season quite a bit with some simple techniques and should have no trouble gardening year round. For those of us in cooler climes, year-round gardening takes a bit more ingenuity. January of this year was one of the coldest on record – the coldest we have had in about 75 years. The temperature hovered in the single digits (Fahrenheit) for days at a time. Clearly we were not going to be growing tomatoes in an unheated garden space that way!

The key to off-season gardening is to pick crops that can handle some cool weather. Cabbages, broccoli, carrots, beets, some lettuces, spinach and a variety of other cool-season crops are very happy in fall weather. To extend the season further you’ll need to add some plant protection. A full greenhouse is not necessary. Wind and direct frost-damage cause the most crop loss. In areas with heavy snow you’ll also need to protect the crops from being crushed under the snow.

Floating row covers are enough protection for light frosts and do a great job of protecting plants from wind damage. These are often made of a non-woven fabric-like product that simply rests on the plants. It comes in 3 or 4 foot widths and can also be used in spring to keep cabbage butterflies and squash bugs off of your plants. If snow is expected or you just want to provide a bit more protection, you can use wire supports or tomato cages to support the row covers.

For more serious protection you can use sheets of plastic. Hardware stores and garden centers sell rolls of heavy plastic sheeting that can be used to protect plants from wind and freezing temperatures. You’ll definitely need supports for plastic. Bent PVC pipes can be secured to your garden boxes or stakes of rebar pounded into the ground for supports. A simple wooden or PVC pipe frame creates a movable mini-greenhouse. Leave the ends of the plastic unsecured so you can roll it back for ventilation on warm days. Be sure to stake it down or weight it so the winds don’t carry it into your neighbor’s yard.

Cold-frames are a traditional crop protection option. They take a bit more work to create but a well-made cold-frame will last for many years. Cold frames are a simple box that has a glass or plastic “lid.” You can create one with straw bales, wood, or even brick. They make a great place to start seedlings in the spring as well as a comfy place for your cool-season crops to over-winter. Again, you’ll need to open the lid to vent hot air on warm days.

For a much more in-depth discussion on extending the season, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s book Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long, 2nd Edition
. He is the expert on winter gardens – and he lives in Maine where the weather is far from plant-friendly! You can buy it through my affiliate link here:


Another excellent book on the topic is The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live

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  1. I found this very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing. You made it sound very possible.

  2. I’m no good at gardening at all. My dad was a great gardener but it seems like everything I try to grow dies. Those are some great tips for other gardeners. :)

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