Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Microclimates and Season Extention

Growing food in a northern climate is challenging.  We have only 3 months of (mostly) guaranteed frost free nights (in a good year, we get 4).  You might wonder how we could get ANY crops to the point of harvest with such short season, but there's one very important factor to consider: 


 Through those 3 (or 4) months of frost free growing, we are flooded with daylight (at summer solstice, we can receive close to 17 hours of daylight each day).   That's a LOT of growing time packed into each day of those 3 (or 4) months of frost free gardening. 

In a northern climate, making good use of microclimates is critical in getting a leg up on season extension.    I've shown you our greenhouse before (although I'm not sure you've seen it with siding on). This space functions more like a walk in cold frame (because it's not heated or insulated) but it buys me VERY important season extension in the form of a protected, warm microclimate.  This microclimate extends outside as you can see the snow has melted near the access door (this area is SW facing).  

In contrast, look at the picture below.  The front of the greenhouse faces East and as you can see, the area is snow covered.   Our main annual vegetable garden is beyond the fenced area and is also still under snow.

Inside the greenhouse, I have been irrigating the soil with snow harvested from outside.  Every few days, I fill up these cold frames with snow and it melts slowly into the soil below.  By the time I'm ready to seed in these cold frames, the soil will be moist and warm and ready to grow some early cold hardy greens.

Up at the house, you can see the spectacular effects of another valuable microclimate.  This little patch of earth is South facing and benefits from the protection of the house and reflective heat from the driveway.   The snow is nearly all gone here and I'm counting on seeding some cold hardy greens in this location weeks before I can seed in the main garden.

You've seen the same area before - this is what is looks like in peak production (lush and abundantly full of food for us and the pollinators).

Northern Hemisphere readers, I would encourage you to walk your property NOW to see if you can identify any microclimates on your property.  Small pockets of sheltered warmth are hidden gems that can net you an early harvest of cold hardy greens with very little effort.   Challenge yourself to find a microclimate close to your house and see if you can plant something a bit earlier than you might normally...


  1. Great thinking! I have a nice south-facing slope just off my back deck that I can finally plant in this year (just got topsoil to cover it last fall). I'd like to do something with shrubs and fruit trees there and have areas for herbs and greens as well. Will you go ahead and plant as usual this year or do you plan to reduce your garden in case your place sells? Hard for a gardener to be in such limbo, I'm sure!

    1. Yes, being in limbo is a bit tricky. With the market and economy the way they are, it's unlikely we'll be selling any time soon (or at all this year). I will plant a garden this Spring but am undecided as to how large... For the cost of some seed I don't have much to lose if we do end up moving. I think it's a better bet to seed and move than to not seed and end up staying with no garden to feed us.

    2. I think you're right. And I think anyone looking at the place would be impressed with the potential when they see how much you are able to grow. And having the garden to tend might help you feel busy. I hope you can move on soon, and that you get the price you are hoping for. Things are sure getting difficult for some people. I actually came to the comments here to contact you regarding your bees...would you feel comfortable shooting me an email privately? I was given a starter's bee hive for Christmas and would like to pick your brain lol!
      Thanks so much!