It might be cold right now, but this is the time of year when gardening fever hits. You want to plant something—NOW. And what better way to satisfy your cravings than to grow something to eat, protected from inclement temperatures and rough weather?
Niki Jabbour knows all about that. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, gardening in twenty raised beds, so she’s got the cred when it comes to season extending. Her newest book is Growing Under Cover: Techniques for a More Productive, Weather-Resistant, Pest-Free Vegetable Garden. I asked her to share insights that will help you satisfy your gardening urge, despite the weather.
“I’m an organic gardener and only grow food naturally,” Niki says. “My whole mantra is garden smarter, not harder, and I learned early on that using covers helps extend my season and foil pests. They’re garden insurance!”
Niki recommends all kinds of covers—from light-weight spun cloth over individual rows to spacious poly-covered hoops on raised beds. And, of course, under cover means a greenhouse as well. “Look for a structure that offers plenty of ventilation with windows and roof vents,” she says. “You can also add shade cloth or rollers to reduce the intensity of summer sun.”
This is the time of year to start the cool-season leafy greens, such as arugula, kale, spinach, Asian greens, and all sorts of lettuce. The days are lengthening now, so sowing flats every week or two, will help you get food on the table quicker. Thinning a thickly sown flat (nail scissors work well for this) means greens in the salad bowl while the winds are still raging outdoors.
Under cover is a great place to sow vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower that take longer to mature. When they’re moved outside, light row covers will help protect them from the predations of caterpillars and moths without having to resort to pesticides. And for Niki, whose structure isn’t heated, it’s the perfect place to overwinter her perennial artichokes.
But her greenhouse doesn’t just protect vegetables at the colder ends of the year. It also brings her summertime bounty as well. In her short-season climate, the summer heat inside allows her to grow vegetables that don’t flourish in the northern regions. “My favorites include heirloom tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplants, and melon,” Niki says. “And Armenian cucumbers, which are crisp, mild, and delicious. Growing these in my greenhouse means we enjoy a bumper crop of fruits from mid to late summer.
Niki is thinking about adding even more versatility to her undercover structure. “I am considering a heater in the greenhouse to allow me to overwinter fig trees,” she says. “I currently bring them inside my home, but I’d much rather leave them in the greenhouse.”
So, what will you be sowing under cover this month?