A Guide to Growing Cold Hardy Plants Under Cover - Unheated Greenhouse Growing
I remember the day I found out that it is possible to grow cold hardy vegetables before and after my first and last frost dates. I was blown away. Here I had always thought outdoor gardening had to be packed into just a few short months and low and behold, I was wrong!
It happens that I have a small 10' x 12' unheated greenhouse that works perfectly for growing early and late cold hardy veggies. The trick has been figuring out exactly how to do this, finding lists of cold hardy seeds, and trying to figure out seed dates.
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Unfortunately I have not got this information completely perfected for you. But I am so excited about what I have found out I don't want to wait any longer to share it so that YOU can get started growing cold hardy vegetables as well!
A lot of what I have learned has come from Eliot Coleman's book The Winter Harvest Handbook. I highly suggest purchasing this if you wish to learn more on growing cold hardy vegetables through the cool months of the year.
How to Grow Cold Hardy Vegetables
Plants protected from the elements can survive much colder temperatures than plants exposed. This is especially true of the wind. To grow cold hardy vegetables in winter months you will need at least two layers of cover, ideally having 3 layers.
The layers necessary for growing cold hardy vegetables are as follows:
A greenhouse. (This is not necessary, cold hardy vegetables can be grown using only the following 3 layers)
6 mil Poly. Inside my greenhouse I just use two layers of 6 mil poly right next to each other. If building a poly tunnel for winter growing, it is important to build two hoops with a 4 to 6 inch layer between. This layer of air between the layers of poly acts as insulation.
Hoops will need to be placed for the poly. As mentioned, two layers of poly are needed when growing cold hardy veggies in a poly tunnel vs. inside an unheated greenhouse. Hoops can be made from most pex or PVC piping, using metal strapping to secure. I used this 12.7mm SharkBite pex pipe for my garden hoops. You can check out my story highlights on IG for details on how I made my hoops. Shown in that video are only single hoops used for brassica netting as well as single layer poly for spring crops.
Cold Hardy Vegetables
I am still working on perfecting a good list of cold hardy vegetable seeds. I will share with you a few options I think would do well here. Most of these links are from the West Coast Seed website and are affiliate links. Many of these varieties are also available from other seed companies as well.
Claytonia (Also called Miners Lettuce - One of the hardiest winter salad greens.)
Swiss chard (Harvest and eat while leaves are small.)
Carrots (Sprint or Napoli - Plant Aug 1)
Unheated Greenhouse - Winter Sowing Planting Calendar
When to plant... That is the question. That is the question I am still trying to answer. I may not have it perfected but I do have some rough guidelines. General planting dates are as follows:
Spring Planting Dates - Feb. 20 - Mar. 20th
Fall Planting Dates - Aug. 25 - Sep. 20th
Plant growth slows considerably with less than 10 hours of daylight. In the Calgary area (on the 52nd or 53rd parallel) we experience less than 10 hours of daylight from around October 24th to February 20th.
The idea with cold weather gardening is that the plants should be mature by the time you reach the 10 hours of daylight and less point. They essentially hibernate under cover and can be used fresh as needed.
With aiming to have plants matured by October 24th, I have come up with a winter sowing schedule. Adjust as needed according to your last 10 hour day of daylight in the fall.
*It is important to note that Days to Maturity listed on seed packages are the days it takes the plant to mature under ideal conditions.
August 25th to September 1st
September 2nd to 10th
Mesclun Salad Mix
September 10th to 20th
I have found my winter plants can survive down to temperatures of -22 degrees Celsius (-8 F). It is truly amazing how hardy plants can be when given protection.
Your spring cold weather planting calendar is not as specific. Plants can be seeded outdoors anytime after February 20th as soon as your soil is thawed. Days to maturity will depend on how soon you will be able to harvest. Again, remember to expect plants to take longer to mature than listed on the seed packages when the weather is cool.
Using these winter planting methods and growing under cover allows you to enjoy heathy, fresh home grown vegetables throughout more months of the year with little extra cost for supplies.
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