Season Extension with Naim Edwards and Abbey Palmer

April 13, 2021


Video Transcript

Hi everybody. So we are going to get started. And we, for those of you who are attending via Zoom, Welcome! We will post this recording to Facebook because we are still having some technical troubles getting the like broadcasts going. So welcome to our last episode of Cabin Fever Conversations. Today we are talking about season extension with Abby Palmer and Naim Edwards, who were both speakers on the last iteration of Cabin Fever And Naim was also one of our guest host for this season. So we are excited to have him join us today to talk about season extension. So Abby and Naim You can turn on your cameras if you like and join us on screen. Welcome, welcome. It is good to have you back. When we were planning the series, we thought it would be fun to end with two of our favorite speakers from Cabin Fever Conversations 2020. If you missed their episodes last year. Naim was talking about edible landscapes. And Abby shared some really wonderful and engaging in science in the garden practices, that I think really changed the way I interacted with my garden. And of course, guest speaker, Rainbow, the parrot is back as well. So for those of you who are super fans, you might remember Rainbow from Season 1. So welcome. We're glad to have you both back. [Naim} It's a pleasure to be with you all. thanks for having us back. [Abby] And I think we'll just kick it off, maybe by asking you both to share something that's bringing you joy or something that you get really excited about when you think about season extension practices. And I know we'll get into that a little bit of what that means shortly after. So what's bringing you joy you about this practice? Abbey, why don't you start? [Abbey] Well, the thing I love about season extension is it defies logic, right? I'm able to do something a little magical in the garden with the help, sometimes of plastic and other techniques that allow me to enjoy the food that I produce for more of the year. And I think that that's probably the most joyful part of it, is getting to have access to the food for longer. [Abby] Yeah, it does feel like you're doing a little bit of alchemy in the garden and defying what nature's throwing at you. Naim, anything that you want to share. [Naim} Yeah, I was thinking it's kind of a combination for me of like joy and angst, because on one hand, you're creating more opportunity to have food and get potentially involved in your garden earlier in the year. But you're also adding a potential bit more labor on both ends of the season. So your winter or your off-season might be a little shorter as well. So it can be a gift and a curse. But for folks who are always itching to get their hands in the soil by having season extension in place when the season starts, you can kind of loosen up soil and get plants in the ground earlier than you would otherwise do so. [Isabel] So for people who might be new to season extension, could you bought, maybe define what season extension is and what it means to you? Naim, Maybe you can start. [Naim] Sure. So I will just start with, in warm climates, you imagine near the equator, the tropics, et cetera, the growing season essentially last all year and there are plants that you can grow in lovely warm conditions. January to December. As you move north, or to colder regions, The growing season is shorter, meaning the amount of light and, or the daily temperatures aren't either bright enough or long enough to sustain the conditions needed to grow plants. So season extension is just using built mechanisms to allow the plants that we want to grow to have more time, to be protected and have the conditions that are necessary for them to grow. [Abbey] You know, those frost-free days that you alluded to Naim, that's the amount of time that we have between our last frost in the spring, which for me in the Upper Peninsula, it can be in June. And the first frost that we get in the fall, which again for me at the Upper Peninsula, can be in September, that span of time, that's our growing season. And season extension is any technique, practice built as Naim mentioned, that helps us extend that season. I think of season extension as growing on the shoulders of the season. I mean, if we think about that main growing season, which again for me is May through September, What can I start to do in March? Because season extension practices allow me to get started earlier. And what can I like eke out and continue to support in my garden into November or maybe even December to try to grab something from the garden for the holiday table. [Abby] because we started the series with Yooper and we're ending the series of Yooper. And I'm always reminded of how different climates are that you grow in up there. And feel like where our season is extended just a little bit more down here, and know what a critical practice it is for being able to grow a lot of things in the UP, right? It's like a natural... If you're not thinking about it, you're going to be super limited on what you're growing. So it's just always a good reminder to be grateful for our slightly warmer climate downstate too. So you shared a little bit about some of what it does. I'm wondering if either of you could share more about the benefits that season extension. Or, or maybe better yet thinking about what's the mindset that somebody should approach sees an extension with. So what should somebody Think about or try and pursue when thinking about season extension. We can go the other way. Abbey, if you want to share some thoughts first. {Abbey} your mindset should be thrives on neglect, but also you're willing to pay attention, right? Because whatever season extension you decide to do, you can do an intensive variety, which would be like maybe having a cold frame that is a small hole, like next to your backdoor, an old window propped up on some hay bales. And if that puppy, it gets hot, the sun comes out pretty soon, your coldframe is actually a sauna. It's like a 120 degrees in there. So choosing your practice that is in alignment with how much attention you can give your garden is a good idea. I think with many of us working from home. In the past year, we got to garden a little more and got to monitor our season extension practices more because we were near to where it's going on. So I'd say that one of the things about your mindset should be look into the tools enough to find the one that suits you and also don't be disappointed if something fries or something freezes because there's a learning curve. [Naim]Yeah, I would simply add to that, just the mindfulness of what scale you have to grow and the space that you have to work with and also what you're interested in growing. I think we'll cover specific produce that you can make later in the presentation. But not all plants will be able to conform to season extension. And some plants will conform much more readily to it than others. And it's also kind of timing, even though you're extending the season, they're still depending on the structure that you're using for season extension, risk of freezing can still get a really cold day and maybe not have much structure that's capable of resisting or holding off super cold temperatures. So you'll also want to be mindful of the plants that can also tolerate, even with the added protection structure. The cold that still, encroaches on both ends of the season. [Abby] And I think it's just important to remember that while we can play with a lot of different like magical tools in the garden and things that make us think that we might be a little bit more in control. At the end of the day. It's still up to Mother Nature. It's still a guess as to whether or not she's going to let us continue growing. I'm wondering if we could maybe just pause and ask you both to describe your backgrounds. I know you both have some season extension backgrounds in your Zoom screen. And wondering if you can share what those are. [Abbey] Naim You should go because I know we wanted to talk about using materials that are available. So you should go first. [Naim} Yeah, it was funny when I first heard the question, what came to mind was like my personal or professional background. But Abby was literally referring to the screen background and everything because you say, well, it all started in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. [Abby] That's a different episode.... [Naim] my background is showing some row covered or low tunnels and they're pretty interchangeable. But essentially you have a hoop made of plastic or metal usually. And then something draped over that hoop which could also be plastic or a cloth. And those are to some degree the cheapest and also most low maintenance kind of models of season extension. You're simply adding a little cap or layer of protection like a t-shirt or a sweater, if you will. To protect plants from cooler temperatures, then the hoops themselves are supporting the fabric over the plant beds in a way that keeps the fabric or material from touching the plants. So you're creating a small, slightly warmer environment than what is outside of those of the fabric or materials that you're using. And that's kind of sometimes all it takes to create the conditions needed to get some extra produce. [Abby] it also doubles as some pest control as well. So you get have double benefit from that. Yeah. Abbey do you want to describe your literal background? [Abbey] Then I moved to the side a little bit and say that this is a photograph from the early 1900's. You might recognize one of the landmarks in the background. Yes, folks, that's the Eiffel Tower. We're looking at one of the peaks of the French market garden tradition, where cities were still largely horsepower. And so there was an abundance of horse manure, which is excellent for raised bed, intensive growing. And if you look at this photograph, you can actually see that there's a few different season extension practices in effect, but they're kind of almost hidden. One that I'll point out is that we've got a south facing slope, right? So this season extension practice just has to do with orienting things so that they can get the most of the sun. Another thing you might notice is that there's like a wall and that stone or brick wall would absorb heat during the day, trapping sunlight and then slowly releasing it. At my house, I have a garage that is a similar color and I can plant my peppers next to it because they thrive in the heat. They want more heat and this wall is releasing heat and creating a micro-climate where the temperatures at night still dip, but they don't dip it sharply or as fast. So there's a couple of things in practice there that are moderating and acknowledging that season. Because if you think about it, we're actually had a similar latitude to Paris. They have a different climate than we do, but they have similar light. And some season considerations. Other things that were going on at that time included cloches, which you may be familiar with. The cloche hat. The French word "cloche" is bell. And these were glass bells which the gardeners would takeout and set over each plants at night. So imagine going out with your cart rattling. Full of all these glass bells that are, oh, I don't know, 18 inches tall and maybe eight or 10 inches around and setting those out over individual plants and then getting those off in the morning before the sunlight is able to hit them. And really fry give you some blistered Shishidos. If you know what I mean? So I love this photograph because it reminds me that there is a tradition of season extension that goes back in Europe to the 1600's And we're going to talk about some other techniques that are even older and are part of the, we're going to all learn a new word today, the word 'walipini". So it's nice to know that there have been other gardeners engaged with these same questions, which is, how do I make this plant happy even though it's not exactly suited for the place I'm living, or how do I get more food for more of the season, or et cetera, et cetera. There's a long tradition and a lot of different practices to engage in and to learn about. Season extension is a fun part of gardening. [Abby} Yeah, I'm imagining the dedication it must take to wheel out all of those bells and one by one, place them over each plant and then make sure you wake up early enough the next morning that you get to it before it bakes. I think we think of area farmers who might have hoop houses in the summer. They're really eager to like, roll up those sides quick so it doesn't feed that sort of oven. But bunch of glass bells that's just a whole other level of commitment, right? But I love that visual. [Abbey] I thought of one more thing while we're talking about kind of unconventional season extension from what people talk about in-bed composting as a way to raise the soil temperature. And I think that the horse manure in these raised bed systems that you're looking at behind me, the French intensive method could have benefited from some microbial activity heating up the soil. [Abby] that's just a great reminder too, that it doesn't necessarily have to be this like high intensity material inputs coming up with these elaborate structures. Sometimes it's just understanding your space better and understanding how to orient to maximize what's already present, right? Like even just thinking about where you have walls and structures that might retain heat to some effect or the sloping of things and how to, how to better utilize that. Sometimes we just think of our garden as one area and forget that they're micro-climates and that there are things we can increase or decrease based on like how we plan it out. That's just a good reminder that it doesn't have to be, you know, building a whole new hoop house or are holding structure. It can be some of those little ways you can navigate for sure. [Isabel] Yes, I think this is a great time to sort of start to talk about some of these different practices that, that home gardeners can use. So Abbey , Naim, if we want to dig into some easy home practices. maybe we can touch on what materials would be involved too, for each one. Yeah. [Naim] I really appreciate what Abbey just shared about the mindfulness of micro habitats. And it's to some degree a slippery slope. But there's, there's kind of a finite number of principles that I think Abbey and I, Abbey Palmer and I (or all of us Abby Harper as well.) We'll kind of reiterate and repeat throughout today's conversation that essentially you want to maintain or hold heat more. So just being mindful of that, and also being mindful of the materials and resources that are capable of keeping essentially heat and the temperature near your plants up. So I was thinking in the photo of my background, in addition to the built structure, There's also permeable pavers on the ground. And there's also stones all around the raised beds of the flowers. And these also can serve, as Abby Palmer mentioned, to hold heat during the day time. So in addition to heat being insulated inside whatever season extension structure we're using, we can also modify the ground and the space around it to keep the air outside of the structure of warm. I'm reminded of my dad who gardens at my house or the house I grew up in. And the south side of our house has kind of a stone wall where he grows his tomatoes and peppers, but he has expanded his garden to a separate location at the far end of our yard. And the peppers and tomatoes that grow within three feet of the house always do better, get bigger and have larger yields, have darker fruits and everything compared to the ones further out. And they have essentially probably an extra maybe peak season, two to four hours of heat. Because when the sunsets heat radiates from the sidewalk and from the house and continues to keep the plants at a temperature where they can continue to turn energy and sugar and to their fruits. So on that note, one of the materials I suppose urban agriculture in Detroit, but I'm sure folks find similar materials wherever they garden, Sometimes when you start a transplant, you could just put a stone that you may have dug up next to it. And the stone itself can serve as a small radiator next to your transplant to continue to emit heat to that when the light is less available. And I've seen in Detroit folks use former doors, former windows, former garage walls... Railroad has the metal part of the railway tracks as well as the wooden boards, the beams to create a raised bed can also be mechanisms that hold heat. I've seen people repurpose plastic, clear bags. That may be a trash bag, to be a row cover for that. And depending on the scale, if you're doing something really small, you could possibly, if you have a ton of clothes hangers, you're not using use those as hoops. So that you don't necessarily have to go out and purchase hoops. People can build if you just have wood or sticks lying around, just lean them together and secure them in a way that creates a teepee over your raised beds or your plant rows and then cover that. And sometimes you don't even need a cover if the material like wood or something itself is reducing wind and holding heat from the sunlight. And also, as we mentioned earlier, being mindful of how compost and soil itself can absorb heat and give off heat. So adding, I guess biological material that will release heat as well is something you can use. And then on the flip side, if you're a person who has the means to purchase something, there's a ton of companies that sell anything from the row cover pipes, tubes and fabric pictured, or caterpillar tunnels, high tunnels, greenhouse materials. All of the plastic, wood screws and hardware needed to build more extensive material based or I guess product-based season extension. [Isabel] Well, I was I was going to say What about some other practices too? There was a question that came in about black plastic. Um, I don't know. That's something we're going to cover too, but I think they're totally thinking along the same lines of, of absorbing that heat. [Naim] I would say black plastic could be ideal for something on the ground, literally covering the ground to absorb heat, but not ideally something over your plants. As black plastic tends not to be transparent So it would deprive plants of the light to grow. And if the temperatures are too warm, black fast, it can be super effective and efficient at converting heat or sunlight into high heat temperatures, that would be detrimental. Pretty much above the 80 degree mark for a lot plants and they become less efficient and stressed by the heat and less productive. [Abbey} You know, while we're talking about materials. I want to say something about straw. So I use straw mulch in my garden and I mulch in the fall. So my mounded beds are all covered with straw. Well... do you know how they use to keep ice all summer back before the days of refrigeration. They packed it in straw. So as a practice, this is great for me because I'm covering up my beds in the fall and I feel very accomplished. It was very tidy. But when springtime rolls around, I need to pull that straw back so that the sunlight can actually penetrate and hit the black soil and so that we can get the soil temps up. If I leave that straw on in my raised beds, then I'm basically encouraging them to stay cold. So that's something that I figured out when I was this many years, a little bit of a thing I wanted to share with folks because straw can be a really great mulch. And I do like to use it, but it's very available my area, but it's a season de-extender if you know what I mean in the spring. [Abby H]Yeah, it kind of serves as that incubator for coldness. Kind of like freezer bags. Keeping things frozen a little longer. Yeah. So while we're on that topic, Abbey, maybe you can share a little bit about some other season extension practices. I know you hinted at one before. But what are some other practices that folks in their home gardens might able to employ? [Abbey] Well, we talked a little bit about the cold frame, that being an old window, set, either a box that you build for it or on straw bales. The cold frame is a wonderful way to actually handle your winter compost that comes out of your kitchen, dump it in the cold frame and it stays pretty happy. Other people use on perceived starting really early on. And you can also make a larger cold frame where you grow lettuces, et cetera, and other cold hardy things. chicories, there's a lot of things that you could do. I'm thinking mostly of leafy greens , spinach, But again, the problem with the cold frame, is you'll need to have a way to vent it. They make wax pistons where the wax inside the piston will expand when it heats up and open. So this wax businesses an electricity free way to vent your structures. Your season extension structures passively. Some large hoop houses and greenhouses use the same technology if they don't have access to electricity. And the wax pistons are good for many years. We use them quite a bit. And I've had great experiences personally with the wax pistons. After the cold frame. Let's talk a little bit about three words that really get people confused. Greenhouse, hoop house, and high tunnel. They can be used interchangeably and you'll see them used interchangeably in the literature. For me, I try to make a small distinction, which is that a greenhouse, likely it has a rigid sides and you may not be growing in the ground in a greenhouse for greenhouse think glass or plastic sides and maybe growing on benches. Like when you go to a greenhouse to pick up transplants that someone else has produced, that tends to be how greenhouse is mostly used. Hoop house would be a similar structure big enough to walk into. But instead of having the rigid plastic sides, it has a skin. Basically a great, big, very, very tough. Sheet of plastic wrap. And when you think about scaling this down for the home garden, the cold frame is kind of like the greenhouse and the low tunnel or like what Naim is showing behind him in that photograph is more like that hoop house, right? Are we're using a rigid thing to cover our plants. or are we using something flexible like a sheet of something? Some of the other materials, you know, we mentioned frost fabric that comes in different weights and thicknesses. You can get it to the point where it's like a comforter, it's like a sleeping bag for those plants, but they're only getting like 15 percent like transmission. So some things don't mind and they can be blanched. I don't know if anyone has ever seen a blanched asparagus, then they can grow a little bit without light. But for most plants that's a little too much. So we use Agrabond AG19 or AG17. Those are products that are rated based on how much light transmission they get and they provide one to two degrees of temperature increase. So every time I put a layer or frost fabric over by plants, again, a degree or two of temperature, [Abby H.] which doesn't sound like a lot, but it can be the difference in October when you start to get those random just below frost nights it can be the difference between your crops extending another week or two, right? If you can just survived that one night that might drop below freezing by putting on some fabric that protects that a couple of degrees, then if the next couple of days are warmer, you might get an extra bump up a week or so of crops. When you would have lost them as one night. The other thing that, that makes me think of Abbey, especially with Naims picture in the background, is thinking through how you can reuse materials at various points in the season to keep things going, right? So Naim shared the Agribond, that kind of white fabric can be both pest protection And it can also provide those one or two degrees light freezing protection in the winter. But I've also seen stuff like that used in the summer to extend some cooler season crops like lettuce or something like that gives it a little bit more shade and can actually help make sure you have lettuce a little bit longer than you normally would in the spring too. So thinking through how can you make many uses out of the same materials at different seasons too? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. [Naim] I really like that. I guess permaculture buffs would use the term redundancy, essentially finding different functions for the same materials throughout the season. And something that covers your plant. For heat can also protect the plant from a moth or a particular pest like that. And if you have gentle or fragile transplants and it's windy in the wonderful or not so wonderful month of March that you also get reinforcement on protection from the wind as well. And then if you're mindfully using these materials, come June, July, August, you can open up the sides are some people are familiar with those rolling sides of a high tunnel or potentially or a hoop house. And then that allows ventilation, but also allows more heat than usual to continue to get into the structure. If you have really heat loving plants, like tomatoes, okra peppers, squashes or things like that. some of the plants that can thrive and high temperatures or that require a long season. So another benefit of season extension that I don't know if we mentioned yet was in addition to being able to grow particular crops and cooler temperatures. Some crops that might require a 120 or a 180 days to reach maturity. You're giving them a head start when they need it early in the spring. You're giving them kind of their optimal growing potential with additional heat in the summer. And then you're keeping them warmer than they otherwise would be if you're in Michigan. I'm going into the fall by having that season extension as well. So there are certain pumpkins, when you think of like world's largest pumpkin, usually those things take months to grow and they require months of high temperatures, warm temperatures to be able to reach those potential 1000 lbs. I don't know if a thousand if there's a pumpkin that's gotten that big, presume there is. But you're essentially allowing all these things that happened by having season extension. So you can be starting plants indoors or in the ground with coverage and then continuing to utilize that to create the conditions to sustain it. And also for plants that are sensitive to heat. Peak summer, you can use the Agribond or the plastic sheet or the less transparent to shade, more sensitive, more shade loving, more cool temperature plants as well. So you get multiple benefits from essentially the same material. [Abby] Yeah. That reminds me of a season extension practice that we already shared in our series at the very start. We started with seed starting, right? And how you can start some of those crops that do require that 120 days.