I moved to zone 5-6 from California. The good news is I've only had to water when I've done something stupid (like leave the cold frame up during a warm rainstorm). The bad news is that I'm at the low end of that locallity learning curve and trying to get to the peek. My goal: Farm year round. Why? I want to make $$ and I want to prove local is do-able outside of sunny, southern California for sustainability reasons. I also need to make this possible on the large scale, and no-my goal is not to cover everything with plastic.
The idea of the hoop-house was aparently derived from traditional Native American structures (and, no, they didn't have plastic). We also know a layer of strawmulch can insulate/protect small seedlings just germinating from a mild frost.
Below the great-lakes there is no growing sun for atleast 2 months of winter.
Year-round survivors are: spinach, onion, mature cabbage, carrots covered in the ground, parsnip? potato?
I started spinach under a cold frame last fall (in a rain garden) and just got my second cutting off it. First cutting aroudn April 10th. It stopped growing around November 15th last year. 5 months no growth.
I started my onions when they say to in doors and have been disappointed by the measly size that has quickly gotten gobbled up by weeds. Then got some starters from the store (grumble grumble).
What I'm thinking of for fall (hah! haven't even gotten through spring) is to start the onions in egg cartons in the window with supplimental light or the green house around November 15th. This will hopefully get them to 4-leaved or even 5 leaved by April 15th (when I can trim them and stick them in the ground)
I'd like to seed the garden with spinach October 15, get a cutting Nov. 15th and let it lay until April 15th. I'd like to make the boarders of the square-feet of my garden out of rocks, with the cross points the onions.
What I need though, is a cover crop over the spinach or something else to shelter it. Sure, I could use straw, but ultimately, that's unsustainable. I want to grow it on-site. It has to keep structure during severe cold (below zero) I don't want it to interfere with the rest of my garden's growth.
I'm thinking I might be able to plant buckwheat and berseem clover at the same time as the spinach. This will slow the spinach growth, but the buckwheat and berseem should winter-kill over the spinach and hopefully provide a little biodome microclimate to keep the little spinach going until they can bust-a-move in spring. This would also provide yummy food for the garden the rest of the year, and if I'm lucky, some fall flowering and bee visits.
Anyone ever try this before? Any other ideas along these lines?
I'm still trying to figure out how I can close the remaining 5 month gap (4 out of 5 would be great, really) without resorting to canning. Yes, I know - potatoes, carrots, etc. can last a while, but that won't compete witha fresh salad from the market. I'm up for ideas!