Happy October! With leaves changing, and temperatures dropping, it seems fairly obvious (although also timely) to point out that the growing season here in Maine always feels (and is) rather short. That said, there are all sorts of tricks and techniques we use on the farm to extend the growing season. This week, I’m going to walk you through some of those processes, starting way back at the start of the season, with seedling production.
Seeds and seedlings: Because the last frost in Maine is often mid-May, many farmers like to get a head start on their plants, by starting seedlings indoors, most often in a greenhouse. While spreadsheets may not immediately jump to mind when you think of farming, there are many calculations involved with deciding how many seedlings to start of each individual crop. We take into account how many customers we anticipate, create a buffer for potential crop failure, and sometimes plan for specific vegetables for markets based on winter-time conversations. Starting seeds inside helps ensure that the plants have enough time to reach maturity in the field, before the first frost.
Black plastic: Once the seedlings are in the field, there are a few ways to help the plants grow more quickly. One way is to lay down black plastic in the beds. Farmers cut a hole in the plastic to plant each seedling or seed. The dark plastic absorbs more sunlight than soil alone, and this warmer temperature encourages the plants to grow more quickly.
High tunnels: High tunnels are a lot like greenhouses in appearance, but while a greenhouse relies on a heat source other than the sun, high tunnels mostly rely on passive solar heat. I am always amazed by how much warmer it will be in the high tunnel than outside during these fall months- we put a lot of the warm-weather crops in the high tunnels, which helps the vegetables mature more quickly, and continue to produce later into the season.
Row cover: This is a less intensive way to extend the season, as far as infrastructure is concerned. By using metal or plastic hoops, and a light fabric covering the rows of vegetables, the crops are kept insulated from the cold. This is especially useful when the days are still warm, but there is a threat of frost in the evening. Row cover is also a great tool for keeping out harmful insects.
Hopefully this gives you a good sense of how we’re able to extend the harvest here in Maine! There are plenty of other techniques, as well- a quick Google search of “season extension techniques” will show you some other options.
And now for a couple recipes…