Many gardeners begin by sowing seeds in spring and tending crops to harvest towards the end of the main growing season. But to really boost productivity and self-reliance in a permaculture garden, it is useful to think about how, in a temperate climate, we can extend the growing season. When we provide plants with some protection in the winter months, we can even expand into growing all year round.
I work with gardeners in a wide range of different climates to understand how they can make full use of their gardens, not just in the summer months but all year round. This will, of course, involve different strategies in different places.
Where I live, here in Scotland, we have winters with fairly frequent frosts and light freezes. But temperatures rarely fall below around -2 or -3 Celsius. This means that it is perfectly possible to keep a polytunnel frost free without any heating. I can use my polytunnel for a wide range of winter crops.
I also use cloches and mulches to provide a little extra protection for plants early and late in the season, which extends the range of crops I am able to grow. A hot bed (with decomposing materials that give off heat as they break down) also helps. And without additional heating, thermal mass added inside the polytunnel helps to regulate temperature.
I also utilise winter green manure crops on growing areas to protect the soil and add fertility over the coldest part of the year. And, of course, I have a wide range of perennial plants in the forest garden, some of which continue producing food for our household even in the depths of winter.
Of course, in order to grow in your garden all year round, you need to think carefully about the conditions where you live – microclimate and very local conditions as well as the broad climate zone.
In areas with colder winters – you will likely have to consider sustainable ways to heat a greenhouse or polytunnel in order to grow a reasonable range of crops during the coldest part of the year.
This is the time to think about sowing and growing Brassica crops and some other vegetables for the winter months. If you need some help to plan for the seasons to come and for year-round growing, please do get in touch.