Extending the season for cold hardy crops using cold frames and hoop houses probably seems like a lot of work, but it might be less than you think. While it’s true that the initial construction of cold frames and hoop houses requires some work, their ongoing use requires relatively little effort. Today I thought I’d share with you our four basic season extension chores and try to give you a sense of how much time and effort are involved – at least for us here in zone 5. The four chores are: Setting up and taking down venting snow removal and harvesting. You may have noticed that I didn’t mention watering. That’s because when temperatures are consistently below freezing, the plants aren’t really growing; they’re hibernating. And they don’t require additional water. In fact, watering plants when it’s below freezing will do more harm than good, as ice can form on the plants. So, this is one chore you won’t have to worry about during the cold months. Because we extend the season only for cold hardy crops that tolerate frost, we don’t even have to set up the cold frames and hoop houses until temperatures are about to dip well below freezing – say around 20 Fahrenheit. This year we set them up on November 8th. They’ll remain in place for the rest of the fall and winter, and we’ll take them back down sometime in April or May when there’s little threat of snow or temperatures of 20 degrees or colder. To minimize the work involved, we leave the hoops on this bed year-round, but store the greenhouse plastic and cold frames during the warm months. I’d guess that setting up takes about half an hour, and taking everything down and cleaning and storing it takes about an hour. Venting is the chore that many assume would be the most time consuming, but it’s actually one of the least. To understand why, you have to consider that we’re not trying to maintain optimal temperatures for the plants 24/7; we’re just trying to keep them alive, which mostly involves keeping them from overheating on sunny days that are above freezing. Maintaining optimal temperatures and trying to prevent large temperature swings, on the other hand, would require more frequent venting, not to mention heating the structures, which we don’t do. In the fall, we apply the covers as late as we can to avoid losing the plants to the cold, and by this time very few adjustments to venting are needed. So far, the hoop houses have remained covered, without venting, ever since plastic was added on November 8th. Because the cold frames tend to get warmer, I left them slightly open until temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Since then they’ve remained on. So, since November 8th, I’ve only made one adjustment to the venting. Between now and the beginning of winter, if we have sunny days above freezing, I may have to vent the cold frames, and possibly the hoop houses again, but don’t anticipate having to do this more than a handful of times. And when winter sets in, all covers will remain on until late winter, or possibly early spring, when, again, we’ll return to this minimal venting approach on days that are above freezing and sunny. When we no longer expect temps below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll keep everything partially vented until it’s time to remove the covers entirely in April or May. Snow removal is also a relatively minor chore, at least here in zone 5. Again, I take a minimalistic approach. You won’t see me out in the middle of a snowstorm removing snow – that’s for sure. Instead, I wait for the snow to subside. If it’s very cold and overcast, I may wait even longer until it’s sunny. In the meantime, the snow provides insulation, and the plants wouldn’t be getting much sun anyway when it’s overcast. I just brush the snow off with a broom, which takes a matter of minutes. I have to admit, it gets harder and harder to harvest crops as the temperatures drop. It’s more of a motivation issue than anything else. Perhaps after I build my new walk-in hoop house it will get easier. Even so, we usually harvest from the garden a couple times per week during the cold months. Most winters there’s plenty to choose from, though last winter’s record cold had the garden looking pretty barren by January. Even so, we usually manage to get outside and pick something fresh from the garden most weeks. It’s easy enough to pop open a cold frame or open the side of a hoop house for a quick harvest. We just have to be careful to only harvest when the crops aren’t frozen, which is usually midday when the sun is shining. So, hopefully, this gives you a better idea of how much time and effort we put into the cold frames and hoop houses when extending the growing season for cold hardy crops. It’s really not as much work as you might think. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.