Unless you garden in a temperate or tropical zone you may be one of those unfortunates who simply can’t get enough of gardening. The calender may state exactly when spring, summer, autumn and winter begin but we know that don’t mean Jack! Spring time in the Carolinas, Texas and Kansas is quite a bit different than it is in Montana, Maine and Michigan. Only the Northerner can explain the horror of a blizzard dropping an incredible 8-12 inches of snow on the first day of spring. Good-bye, Crocus! We’ll see you when the snow melts.

The short growing season is the culprit and a sad business it is indeed, a nasty thorn in our sides, in fact. Because of it we northern gardeners will do just about anything to extend it. Therefore, we shall discuss the many ways the sufferers of the short growing season have discovered, invented and created to lengthen the way-too-short growing season.

The Cloche– This is what the French call a bell jar used to cover seedlings or small plants to protect them from freezing cold, frost and at times insect damage. It is in essence a tiny, portable greenhouse. They work quite well, that is until the plant out-grows its place. It is only a temporary fix but worthy of note for those who want to get a jump on the growing season. Placing a bell jar, or if lacking that the recycling sort can use any big jar such as those in which come pickles in bulk quantities. Place this out in the garden over the spot where you will be transplanting a seedling to enable that soil to warm up using nothing more than the rays of the sun. Warming the soil prior to transplanting gives the little plant less of a shock which in turn helps it grow better.

The Cold Frame– This simple devise works the same as the cloche being a place for the sun’s rays to permeate and warm that which is within. The cold frame can be made of anything you have handy but the traditional way and for those with woodworking skills is to nail boards together to form a bottomless box or frame. This then gets placed over a bit of earth already prepared for sowing seeds and then covered either with clear plastic sheeting, old windows or plexiglass. The more elaborate cold frames have sloping sides with the front lower than the back. This is to move the larger plants toward the back as they grow to make room for smaller ones. It is also to take advantage of the sun. If angled towards it, the sun will warm the cold frame more intensely for better plant growth.

For the fancier among us the top of the cold frame can be attached to it using hinges and the entire thing can be actually attached or at least adjacent to the house making it a more permanent fixture. Some people like the idea of being able to move the cold frame about the garden wherever needed while others like one that will remain stationary. Either way the cold frame does the same thing. It acts like a small greenhouse for starting seedlings or to harden them off before placing out into the garden.

Other materials to use for a quick and easy cold frame are old tires, hay bales, railroad ties, cinder blocks or bricks. The tires need only a window on top or an old see-through shower curtain to make a nifty little greenhouse perfect for starting tomatoes way before it is safe to plant out in the garden. As the black of the tire absorbs more heat it keeps particularly warm inside even for peppers and eggplants and if you fill the inside of the tire with water it will add a bit of humidity and again maintain the warmth just needed for these warmth loving plants. If they grow too fast and hit the “ceiling” just add another tire to make it tall enough for further growth until it is safe to plant outdoors, after danger of frost.

As for the other materials line the bricks, cinder blocks or railroad ties to form a square or rectangle whatever height you desire and whichever shape you like. Then cover these with clear plastic, old windows or plexiglass. The good thing about using these is they can accommodate taller plants simply by adding another row. Once the cold frame is no longer needed it can easily be dismantled and the hay can be recycled into the compost pile or can be used to mulch a strawberry patch.

The Sunroom– This is the precursor of the greenhouse but can more accurately be called an elaborate cold frame. Usually just off the main house a sunroom is just a room with more windows than solid walls. It naturally allows in more sun if placed on the south-facing side of the dwelling. Normally the sunroom isn’t for starting plants as much as it is for your tropical indoor plants such as potted Palms, Orchids and hanging baskets of flowering Bougainvillea but that isn’t to say it won’t be used exactly for that purpose. Where else can you have a nice set-up for starting seedlings with that much sun just off the main house?

The Greenhouse– Whether a tiny 6X8 confection of plastic sheeting over PVC pipes or an extraordinary beveled glass building with high ceilings, the greenhouse is the same wonderful thing, a place to bring your plants, seeds, visions and dreams of your perfect garden to make them come true. While the more expensive and elaborate are usually heated artificially, meaning with something other than the sun, the organic gardener among us probably may like to keep things natural and less costly. Making certain to place the greenhouse in full sun is essential to this purpose.

For the smallest greenhouse a light bulb could suffice on a cold night to keep the seedlings from premature death. For the larger one a small propane heater may do. But there are other ways of bringing in the solar power and keeping it in. Placing dark-colored jugs or barrels full of water within the greenhouse can help and virtually costs nothing. The sun heats the water by day and at night the water releases it again to warm the greenhouse and the plants. The greenhouse could be a year round venture or one used merely for starting seedling early in spring for that jump-start we all crave.

Some of the most manic among us, it can be truthfully said, wouldn’t be satisfied with a growing season lasting eleven out of the twelve months. There’s nothing to be done about them. We all have our vises and as vises go gardening is a pretty darn good one to have, no matter what anyone says to the contrary. The short growing season, therefore, is one many of us will do just about anything to elongate if only by a few, scant weeks. Those with plenty of time to garden will think us very silly indeed for going to all that trouble but they will just have to forgive us this.

Don’t let the fear of being thought silly stop you from trying some of these methods to see which works best for you. Some will work better than others, of course, but if you are truly manic about gardening keep this in mind. The cloche brings half a zone, the cold frame brings about a zone and the unheated greenhouse yet another. So, what do you think would happen if you used a cloche within a cold frame within a heated greenhouse? Blimey! That’s about two or three extra zones for you. Isn’t that worth the trouble?

Author Bio Box: Glory Lennon. Visit for more fascinating gardening lessons, amusing short stories and intriguing novel excerpts.

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