ask-tom-pictureLast month, Tom answered a question on fall sowing schedules, and this month we are offering an elaboration on this topic to include more detail, plus season extension resources. Happy winter growing!

Q – What is the best way to schedule late fall and winter production?
A – The best way to schedule your late fall and winter plantings is to look back over ten years of your farm records and adjust your plantings from last year. Since everyone’s farm location, aspect (facing north, south, etc.) and elevation are different, your records are the best and over several years a pattern will appear. For years we stopped sowing head lettuce at the end of August. Some years that produced havestable heads in November but in other years the freeze thaw cycle turned the heads to mush before they reached harvestable size. We backed up to August 15 for the last sowing and and rarely lost that last crop to cold damage. Lately we have been growing salad mix which can be sown a little later.
Given your question, you are just beginning to developing your own farm-specific fall hardiness records. Here are some resources to help with your early attempts at Winter harvests.
I am a big fan of the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog (as well as their seeds). They use a snowflake icon to indicate the varieties that do well in cold weather. While they are in Albion, Maine – much further north – they are also closer to the coast than we are so their varieties and snowflakes seem to work out fairly well for the Southern Appalachians.

Another variable is the amount of protection that you intended to provide. Eliot Coleman’s new book The Winter Harvest Handbook (http://www.growingformarket.com/store/products/19 ) discusses fall and winter scheduling at great length. He stages crops by the level of protection:

  • Outside (unprotected)
  • Quickbeds – hoops and spunbond row cover
  • Cold house – high tunnel with row cover inside
  • Cool house – high tunnel with row cover and supplemental heat to keep the inside above freezing.

He provides detailed variety suggestions and scheduling examples. He is in Maine too so keep that in mind as you read – much shorter winter days than WNC but his hardiness zone is similar to our situation.

I would add one more category to his list

  • Cool house with outside insulation.

We are experimenting with a way to protect our heated greenhouse from cold spells with a movable insulation blanket. Here is a photo (right) from a recent CRAFT visit to our farm in Leicester.

Another great resource on season extension is Steve Moore who works at the NCSU Center for Environmental Farming Systems down east. I first heard about Steve in an article entitled “The Gandhi of Greenhouses” from Rodale (http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0404/moore/greenhouse.shtml ). Steve developed his systems in central Pennsylvania so his experience there is very relevant to our climate, although CEFS is in a warmer coastal plain situation. For some crops he likes used greenhouse plastic as the inside cover instead of row cover. In WNC I might try both. His presentation at http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/PDFs/High%20Tunnels/High%20tunnel%20production%202_09.pdf gives his winter sowing schedule in Pennsylvania.

Other resources are Walking to Spring by the Wiedigers in Kentucky (http://www.aunaturelfarm.com/bookorderform.html). Their climate is probably similar to ours as well.

A last suggestion is the True Nature Country Fair put on by the Organic Growers School September 26-27 in Barnardsville this year. (http://www.organicgrowersschool.org/content/15150 It has 87 classes and other events including three that deal with season extension. Hope to see you there!

— Tom

Ask Tom © 2013 Tom Elmore & Organic Growers School

Tom Elmore

Tom Elmore

Tom Elmore is co-owner and operator of Thatchmore Farm in Leicester NC. He has grown certified organic fruits and vegetables for 25 years and serves on the Boards of the NC Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association and the Organic Growers School.