If gardening makes you happy and brings not only delicious food to your table but also satisfaction, you might want to garden year-round. It's entirely possible to garden in Zones 8, 9, and 10 by using a medium weight row cover. A mulch of straw, leaves, or pine needles will also help you discover the joys of winter gardening by keeping the plants warmer and the soil moist. You may plant some short season crops and root vegetables. I would recommend beets, carrots, and onions as your root crops, and cruciferous vegetables like Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower, and Cabbage for their tolerance to cold weather.
With a greenhouse or high tunnel, your gardening season can be extended in zones 5, 6, and 7 primarily if you use heat mats to start your seeds or plants. Smaller cold frames made from old windows on a wooden or cinderblock frame can work too if you check them each day to provide ventilation. The veggie choice is limited for growing with little or no protection. Chard and kale can be planted under row cover or out in the open and will make it through a mild winter with no problem. Garlic can handle frost with no problem if you plant in late September or the first half of October. It will put down roots in the Fall, start sprouting and be ready for harvest by the middle of June.
High Tunnels and Greenhouses
High tunnels are rounded hoop houses on a larger scale. High tunnels have some advantages over a greenhouse.
- Cost is much lower per square foot of growing area.
- Tunnel ventilation is very simple. Temperatures inside can be monitored by adjusting the sides, end door, and peak vents.
- The sides can be rolled up, and doors at the ends can be opened fully or closed. In summer the high tunnel cover is usually opened all day. In spring and Fall, a high tunnel can be closed if the weather gets cold.
- High Tunnels are covered in high-quality greenhouse film or woven polyethylene fabric.
If you want to make your high tunnel, a 12 Mil greenhouse material is available. This material allows up to 80% UV transfer, can be cut to your measurements at the factory, is priced by the square foot, and is puncture and tear resistant.
Six Tips to Winterize Your Irrigation System
In most of the country, there is a real concern about freezing and frost damage to a drip system during winter. There are two areas of interest: the beginning of a system (timer, valves, and filter) and low spots in the system where water may settle. These early morning frosts can surprise the average gardener who hasn't taken the following precautions.
- Bring Battery timers, filters, and regulators indoors. Battery timers should have the batteries removed.
- Use the Female hose plug fitting (HPLUG) to plug the beginning of the mainline tubing or use a plastic bag tied over the opening. Do not leave lines open.
- After the main water supply (faucet or valve) is shut off, open all manual valves and set all automated valves to manual open. Remove all end fittings, drain any water, and then loosely replace the ends.
- The tubing itself is usually not damaged by freezing, but the fittings may crack if there is water left in them. Elevate the drip line slightly to ensure that all water drains out of the tubing. Use a flush valve or insert an emitter at the lowest point in the system to drain.
- Another practice is to blow compressed air through the lines after opening the end cap.
Irrigating in a High Tunnel or Greenhouse
Drip Tape is a good and inexpensive way to irrigate if you plant in long rows. Misters or Sprayers are perfect for starting young plants of when germinating the seed. 1/2" Emitter Tubing is a long-lasting and pressure compensating product with emitters factory-installed (every 9", 12", 18", 24", and 36") inside the tubing that can be run down the entire length of a high tunnel or greenhouse for crops such as berry plants, tomatoes, peppers, and squash. The Down-Spray Sprinkler puts down a 360-degree spray with a 20" diameter and is used between berry plants spaced three feet apart. They are excellent if you want to top dress with fertilizer during the growing season.
Gardening through the winter months is not for everyone; not everyone has mild winters. Let's enjoy our gardening season, do it right by using quality products, the right crops, and of course, the right drip system. Enjoy your fall and winter gardens.