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Intensive Planting Year-Round Gardening Guide

Year-round gardening is my ultimate goal

To do this it requires great understanding of your microclimate, crop selection (especially cold-hardy crops like these ones) and careful garden planning. Because there’s always lots to do in a year-round garden I wanted to share this guide.


In this post I’ll share with you the details of what it’s like to grow food bio-intensively year-round.  I’ll start with garden tasks to do in the early spring and give you a guide all the way until the snow reaches you (if at all!).

Be sure to check out my month-to-month homesteading to do lists as well for detailed yearly gardening rhythm. I’ve also written about gardening year-round in an unheated greenhouse here.

Are you ready to see our year-round gardening guide?

What year-round intensive gardening looks like

Some beginning notes

  • We live in the Canadian mountains in a growing zone 5. This means that while it’s safe for summer crops to be sown/transplanted end of May/early June for our location, it might be a couple of months earlier if you live somewhere warm like a growing zone 8. The idea and run down will still be the same though 🙂 In general our last spring frost is *apparently* around mid-May and our first fall frost usually happens early Sept but then we get another heat wave to 30C/86F and then frosts consistently mid-Oct onwards. Our location gets lots of plant stress during spring and falls!
  • I’m an avid user of season extenders to allow for almost year-round growing potential. They’re very handy in the springtime to warm up soil and give seedlings a better chance with unpredictable weather patterns and are great in the fall once the cold sets in. Learn more about growing food 365 days a year. 
  • I organize my crops into growing seasons because I grow food year-round. I have certain greens and brassicas for example that I grow in the springtime because they can handle the warming days and it helps to prevent bolting. In the fall I grow more the cold-resistant varieties of root crops, brassicas and greens that can handle frosts, snow and even overwintering for early spring harvests.

I gamble my frost dates

  • I’m a full on gambler: The last frost I’ve experienced is May 10th, although our zone says May 20th is the ‘safe sowing time’ with no frosts. I often find our last frosts rarely happen after the first few days of May ( & some years it’s been mid-April, that’s a 3 week difference!). We often actually have huge jumps in temperature into the 30’s C/86F a couple of weeks after frosts. Here’s the thing though!! You can safely sow many of the greens 4 weeks before last frost and here in the Canadian mountains you CAN (and I’ve personally experienced it) get a freak -20C/4F dip in mid-April. So there you have a full on gamble where you’d lose all your crops in that situation. *Usually* the last time we see those kind of temperatures is March, but because it COULD happen in March or April I’ve started using low tunnels in the springtime to get an early start and to help crops handle these crazy erratic springs.
  • Restoring the soil is key in between sowings for each season otherwise there won’t be enough nutrients in the soil for crop success. I won’t go into every detail of my soil and crop boosting, but just so you know I use the following soil amendments in a season depending on what crops are being grown in that bed: compost and decomposed manure, azomite (to re-mineralize the soil), homemade compost or manure fertilizer tea, kelp and seaweed, worm castings (especially for transplants) and alfalfa pellets.

So here we go!

Here’s a peek at what year-round gardening looks like

Late Winter to Early Spring

Smart garden planning is important

  • Mini hoop and low tunnels are placed over some beds once the snow is almost gone to speed up the melting and warming of the soil. In general your raised beds will warm up faster than ground level beds.
  • I usually have overwintered greens which will produce our first spring harvests. If we get an early snow melt & they’re left more exposed to the elements I will cover them with a hoop tunnel should it get too cold. More tips here on how to get an early spring harvest.
  • I often start two rounds of tomatoes and peppers, one in late winter and one in early spring. The first round go under tunnels a few weeks before I’d normally put them in the ground for early experimental transplanting. Some years it works, others we do get a late frost.

Mid to Late Spring

  • The tunnels that were placed on the beds are ready for early transplanting: lettuce and I usually direct sow spinach, radishes and some early peas. I have successfully transplanted peas about 3 weeks before direct sowing outside for early yields.
  • The rest of the indoor transplants are started: more brassicas, the 2nd round of nightshades & melons are started about 8 weeks before last frost. The summer & winter squash are started 3-4 weeks before last frost. Keep boosting seedlings with worm castings and starter food and move into larger pots as needed. Click here for when you should start your seeds.

Vent spring season extenders frequently

  • Keep venting the tunnels if the temperatures climb up, equally important is to shovel any late snow from the tunnels (in the photo above this was an early April snow dump that melted within a couple of days).
  • Late spring is some experimental transplanting of summer crops: peppers, tomatoes and summer squash under low tunnels. I tend to put these in the beds that had the overwintered greens because we only get about 3 weeks of harvests before they start to bolt and go to seed. The overwintered crops are pulled up, the soil is amended and then the experimental summer transplants go into the ground.

Early Summer

  • Preventing the crops from bolting is important at this time with the warming temperatures. In general I rarely get lettuce past June because of the heat, our summer greens switch to kale, chard and malabar spinach. I’ve yet to try some shade cloth to increase the harvest length of lettuce but I do make an effort to create shade with taller vegetables. Choosing bolt resistant varieties is important for these warming days.
  • Early summer is the time to sow your warm season crops once the last frost is safely out of the way. Beans, squash, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers can be safely transplanted now. You can direct sow corn and beans.

Warm soil = sow warm season crops

  • Even though most of the transplants are in the ground, I start a second round of fall brassica transplants. These go into the ground 6-8 weeks from now.
  • As many of the spring salad and fast growing crops have been harvested. These beds have now opened up space for the next round of crops. Make sure you restore the soil for what crops need to go in next. I don’t amend the beds if I’m planting root crops next as they require less oil fertility than other crops. If I’m growing more greens and brassicas I add compost and decomposed manure.
  • If you have a lot of non-lettuce greens like kale, mustards and spinach that are about to bolt you can freeze them. You can freeze arugula in oil too, perfect for salads or sautéed veggies. It’s nice to have some greens ready on hand for those busy summer days.

Mid-Late Summer

  • Mid to late summer marks the start of a lot of  food preservation. Where spots open up the fast growing fall and winter crops get sown. We usually have a large garlic bed that becomes some of the faster growing brassicas (ones that take 60 days like kale, kohl rabi and certain hybrid broccoli). Towards the end of summer, crops are dwindling like bush beans, the first zucchini and cucumbers. Those beds become the faster growing asian greens, mustard greens and lettuce (cold hardy varieties). Learn more about how to plant your fall and winter garden here. 
  • The last of the fall brassica transplants are now in the ground where space opens up from the spring harvested greens.
  • Did I mention food preservation? 😉 lots and lots and lots of canning and dehydrating (we use this excalibur 9 tray dehydrator and also do lots of canning and freezing).

Watch for bolting & garden pests

early Fall & Winter year-round gardening

Late fall plantings = early spring harvests!

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Comments

  1. You are my brand new hero. I am renting about an acre and a half in Northern Vermont after living in the So. California desert for most of my life. We’ve had one garden and it was fairly successful by our standards. (Stuff grew). But I’ve had the hardest time with most sites giving general long-growing-season info which often doesn’t apply to us. This post …. well I think I love you. Thank you for smashing so much info into it and I’ll be watching for more.

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Many of the links to products on this site are affiliate links. These are products that I've used or recommend based from homesteading experience. I do make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) from these sales.Family Food Garden is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com