Lengthening the Gardening Season

Temperatures are starting to drop but that doesn’t signal the end of the gardening season. The Organic Gardener Jeanne Nolan visits the WTTW organic garden to do some planting.

She also shares tips on how gardeners can extend the season a little longer.


The brisk weather doesn’t mean it’s time to put the garden to bed.

“The gardening season is winding down but it’s not over yet,” said The Organic Gardener Jeanne Nolan. “A lot of people figure the gardening season is over now, but there are still a lot of crops that will continue to be productive.”

Those would be cold weather crops like kale, chard, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and hearty herbs like thyme, oregano and sage—all of which can handle temperatures in the low 30s.

With low temperatures expected to range from the high-to-low 30s across the Chicagoland area this weekend, Nolan suggests keeping an eye on your local temperature lows.

“We’re really talking about needing to do harvesting of the cold sensitive crops—tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and basil,” Nolan said. “If you know we’re getting close to a frost, harvest.”

If the weather drops to 32 degrees or below, harvest tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

“Eggplants and peppers won’t ripen after their harvested,” Nolan said, adding green peppers can be eaten. “Tomatoes can ripen more. If a tomato is partially ripe when it’s harvested, place it in a windowsill. If a tomato is green when it’s harvested, place it in a brown bag in a cool, dry location. But check on it frequently because it can rot. ”

Extending the season

On Tuesday, The Organic Gardener maintenance crew members installed a season extension in the south garden bed. We chose to place the season extension there because the crops in the north garden bed were still producing vegetables. Additional soil was added to the south garden bed in order to have fresh, fluffy soil for planting.

“You get the best germination when you start with a nice seed bed,” Nolan said.

Jeanne Nolan plants seed to grow in the season extension. (Photo/Kristen Thometz)Jeanne Nolan plants seed to grow in the season extension. (Photo/Kristen Thometz) Today, Nolan, with help from “Chicago Tonight” host Phil Ponce, planted tatsoi, green curly and Tuscan kale, spinach, arugula, oriole orange Swiss chard, and lettuce (get detailed planting information here).

As for when these crops will germinate, that depends on the weather.

“If it’s warm and stays relatively warm, all of the crops may germinate and do well until it’s cold out,” Nolan said. “Alternatively, the number of daylight hours is going down and we may not get germination. If it gets cold and stays cold and cloudy, the seed might sit there until early spring.”

Either way plenty of seed was planted in the season extension, so when the weather’s right crops will germinate.

Want to make your own season extension? Learn how to create a season extension by reading our step-by-step instructions and watching our how-to videos.

Do you have a gardening question for Nolan? Ask her in our online forum.

Watch Nolan and Ponce's full conversation in the garden, below.