As we welcome in the winter and holiday season here in the Lowcountry, we prepare ourselves for the colder, shorter days with extra layers and hardier meals. Much like we ready ourselves for these changes, our farmers and growers in the area are making the necessary preparations to get their plants and animals through the season. Here at Dirt Works Incubator Farm and like so many farms, we prepare for the winter by planning our crop planting accordingly, protecting our plants from the frost, and utilizing some season extension techniques to help increase production during these slower growing days.

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During the winter, one of our biggest challenges is frost. We can’t know exactly when the first frost of the season will be, but we can make an educated guess based on our region. The Charleston area typically sees its first frost somewhere around mid-November. For growers, this means we want to plant most of our fall crops early enough so they can be harvested before they are eventually killed off by the frost. Additionally, these dates give us a good indicator of when to plant some of our more winter-hardy crops that will either continue to grow through the winter or survive underground/cover until they are can start growing again in the spring (“overwintering”). Another planting option is to grow a cool season cover crop that will improve you soil quality and fertility, giving you a great start to the spring growing season.

Even with great seasonal planning, a farmer often needs/wants their crops to continue to produce well into the winter. One practice we use here at Dirt Works to push back the frost pressure is using frost protection row cover. This is a woven fabric that comes in a variety of thicknesses and sizes that can either be laid directly over the crops or over small hoops that straddle the bed. Row cover is a great way to protect against light frosts in early fall, extending your season by a few weeks or longer possibly. Eventually, row cover will not be enough and the pressure of winter temperatures will take their toll in the garden.

One final practice we use at Dirt Works Incubator Farm to transition in to winter and extend our cooler seasons is the use of unheated high tunnels. These structures resemble greenhouses (metal frame with plastic cover), but they are usually more affordable, less rigid and plants can be grown directly in the ground they cover. A high tunnel provides many advantages for the lowcountry vegetable grower, the most notable being the ability to grow year round. High tunnels help increase temperatures that stimulate growth and protect against the harsh winter elements like wind, rain and frost. Our neighbors to the north will also get protection from snow.

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Winter is a season that like any other season, brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. Our job as farmers is to plan accordingly, be prepared, and enjoy the opportunities we’ve been provided. Hopefully this winter and holiday season will bring plenty of joy, good fortune and great food to the Lowcounty and its people.

James Walawender