It is that time of year when the teasing begins. It’s 60 degrees one day and 20 degrees the next. Wyoming weather tends to taunt us this time of year, trying to convince us backyard BBQs and flourishing gardens are just around the corner. We get antsy with anticipation of the beautiful days to come.
There is not a lot we can do to force those beautiful days to come more quickly, but there are a few options to extend the growing season so we can get in the soil and do some digging a little earlier. There are a variety of ways to extend the season: Building a structure; adding a layer of protection to allow for a few extra degrees on cold nights; or simply planning what to plant more effectively can all help.
High tunnels are becoming more popular season extenders, but people are often skeptical about the structures ability to withstand Wyoming wind and snow. If you are interested in building a high tunnel there are steps to take to help make sure that your structure can withstand the elements. Check out the Barnyards and Backyards article, 101 (almost) Ways for a High Tunnel to Die for ideas about the minimal maintenance high tunnels require to keep them productive for multiple years.
Temporary structures that help keep plants warm and cozy can also be popular for extending the season and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Hotbeds, cold frames and hot caps can be excellent ways to nurture young plants in the spring by adding a little heat and protection from wind. Raised beds and mulching can add some of the same nurturing but are more permanent or not a structure at all. For more information on season extending structures, check out the University of Wyoming bulletin Gardening: Hot Beds and Cold Frames.
Even with all the help from season extender structures, it is wise to plan for success. Consider plants that require fewer days to reach maturity and cold weather plants that can withstand hard frosts like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, kale, lettuce, rhubarb, spinach and peas. Starting seedlings inside can also help kick off the growing season earlier in the spring, but the seedlings may need more time to adjust to the harsh realities of thriving outside when the time finally comes to transition them outdoors.
Along the lines of planning, take time to consider microclimates. Identify locations in the yard that have a different climate than the majority of the surrounding area. The microclimates might receive significantly more or less water than other locations, have more protection from the wind and other harsh elements or have more exposure to direct sunlight making them better suited for specific plants. Watch which plants grow best in these locations. Plants that are well-adapted to their microclimate may give you a jump on the season, and require less care throughout the year.
To learn more about season extension contact the Carbon County Extension Office at 307-328-2646 or consult Barnyards and Backyards: Rural Living in Wyoming publications for tons of great articles on these topics and more.