Monday Night, I Harvested Carrots!

I live in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, which is not exactly the warmest spot on earth. It’s not as bad as Minnesota, thank goodness, but it is far cooler than where I grew up in Virginia.

Yet, with no greenhouse,  snow forecast for today, and well past the first frost of the year, I was out in the garden with a flashlight harvesting carrots and salsify after Thanksgiving!

Too often, folks suffer from the misconception that you can only grow food in summer, when in reality this only applies to tender plants such as tomatoes and squash. Planned well, you can actually grow a great many crops all the way from earliest spring through late fall including:

  • Carrots, Parsnips, Salsify
  • Turnips, Beets, Chard
  • Potatoes (yes, potatoes!)
  • Onions

When you consider that you have a much longer growing season than is self-evident and you can actually grow and harvest even when temperatures have been dropping into the mid 20′s at night, you can use this fact to orchestrate the order in which you plant crops to make maximum use of space.

I explain how to do this in Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre, but the idea isn’t difficult.

Look at the packet of seeds for a frost-hardy crop. I’ll use cabbage as an example. Look at the number of days to maturity. For the cabbage I grow, that number is 65.

Now, that number — days to maturity — is assuming a spring or summer planting, and hence a lot of energy from the sun. So when planting for a fall harvest, you’ll need more time. Add two or three weeks to that number — so 21 days. That gives us 65+21 or 86 days between planting and harvest.

Cabbage can be directly seeded, but it works best from transplants. Usually they are started indoors six weeks before they are planted. (I include a table of this stuff in the book, but you can find that data on your seed packet as well.) So you should start your seeds indoors 6 weeks plus 86 days before your expected harvest, or 6×7 = 42 + 86 = 128 days.

But when is your expected harvest? For a hardy crop, you can harvest 6-7 weeks after the first autumn frost. In my area, the first autumn frost is usually around October 6. So if I add 7 weeks to that, I get November 24. So I should start my seeds for my fall cabbage crop 128 days before November 24 (July 19th), and put my transplants in the ground 86 days before November 24 (August 30th).

(If you don’t like counting backwards on a calendar, you can use this handy website.)

So … I have that entire patch of ground where I am planning to put my cabbage completely available for any other purpose up until August 30th! That means I have plenty of time to grow practically anything short of melons or long-season tomatoes. I like to alternate between plant families and between root and leaf/fruit crops, so I’ll grow my spring potatoes in that bed, harvest them completely, and then replant with cabbage.

People who haven’t tried it themselves sometimes think I exaggerate how much food I can grow in just a few hundred square feet. But the real key is planning — not just in terms of space, but in terms of time. I grew three crops where I grew cabbage this year: chard followed by potatoes followed by cabbage.

You can do it too!