May 30th

theresa albert - my friend in food


Frozen Vegetables No More


Last week I wrote about seed saving as a way of getting over the end-of-season blues. Another great way is to get planting again! Yes it’s true. You can extend your growing season beyond the summer even if you live in a cold climate. There are many hardy vegetables that love the cooler temperatures and grow relatively quickly. Then when the frost comes they can stay warm and cozy inside a cold frame or a tunnel cloche. These old fashioned systems really work and will allow you to harvest fresh food well into December and beyond. Even when the temperatures dip below zero!

What the heck is a cloche?

“Cloche” is actually a French word meaning “bell”. Experienced gardeners cleverly place an upside down bell-shaped jar over a plant to protect it from the elements. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I’ve seen people get really creative and saw off the bottom of a large pop bottle and place it over the plant.

A tunnel cloche works in much the same way but covers a larger space. Think of a mini greenhouse right on your garden bed. We place homemade bamboo arches along the length of the bed and cover them with a thin layer of clear plastic sheeting. I like to use raised beds for a variety of reasons and one of my favorite reasons is that it makes the installation of tunnel cloches a snap and often more successful. Keeping an in-ground garden warm when it’s surrounded by frozen earth is a bit more of a challenge.

A cold frame is basically a box with a transparent lid on a hinge that covers an area of the garden, protecting it from wind, rain and even snow. You can build your own out of old windowpanes and a few pieces of scrap wood.

What to Plant

Hardy vegetables include most Asian greens like Bok Choy and Tatsoi, a huge variety of lettuces, Swiss chard, kale, radishes, peas, spinach, arugula, beets and more. In Toronto, which is hardiness zone 6, the first frost date comes around October 10th. If you’re not sure when first frost comes in your area check out this link that details the hardiness zone in which you live.

Sow those Seeds Now!

Late July to Mid August is really the ideal time to sow your seeds for a winter harvest but many of us still have other plants bearing fruit and we’re not ready to give them up. It’s not too late if you get planting now. Your next succession of plants may still have time to get established before the frost comes. I planted mine yesterday.

Start by removing all debris from the bed and that includes roots, which can be a perfect home for overwintering pests. Next, add plenty of compost to feed the nutrient depleted soil. Sow the seeds, water and wait. (And cover your beds with bird netting if you have the same squirrel problem that I have.)

When the nighttime temperatures start to dip below about 5 degrees cover with plastic sheeting or your cold frame. You can also surround the cloche with straw mulch, which is an excellent insulator.

Choose a location in the garden that gets the maximum amount of sun and is a good distance away from a fence or tall structure that may cast a long shadow. Remember that the sun path travels much lower in the sky in the fall and winter. Planting against a south facing wall can be ideal as the wall can absorb quite a bit of heat and create a microclimate.


Water as usual until it’s time to cover up. Once the cover is on for most of the day and night, reduce your watering. Keep the soil most but not sopping wet so it doesn’t freeze.

Tunnel cloches and cold frames are a great way to extend your growing season. So this winter, say goodbye to frozen carrots, peas and corn and say hello to home grown, garden fresh greens.



Arlene Hazzan Green is an urban farmer and television director with one foot in the dirt and one in high heels. Along with her husband Marc Green she founded The Backyard Urban Farm Company with the goal of igniting people’s passion for growing their own food. Together they design, install and maintain organic vegetable gardens in homes, schools and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area. For more info about Arlene please visit


One Response

    April 2, 2012 at 8:41 pm Reply

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