Season Extension for Winter Growing – Part 4


If you’re just joining us, we’ve been covering winter gardening techniques in aquaponics. Pt1Pt.2, Pt.3

{These are old posts from 2014}

Welcome back to our series on Winter Farming! Last time we talked we went over the specific winter techniques that we are using on our farm, FRESH Farm Aquaponics [now Trifecta Ecosystems]. We’re located in South Glastonbury, Connecticut.  Currently we have more than a couple feet of snow piled up around our greenhouse. Despite night temperatures well below freezing, our 25 koi are happily swimming in balmy 65℉ water with daily air temperatures of 75-80℉.

We went over how we heat the water (with a jacuzzi heater), our mini-greenhouses, and the lights we use to accelerate growth during the darker months. Be sure to check out last month’s article for more information.

This month the light starts to come back and the days grow longer. Our plants are starting to perk up and grow, little by little. The aquaponics system is a marvelous tool for season extension. Even without using grow lights, there are a number of benefits to starting your season off early with an aquaponics system.

Cold Frame Season Extension with Aquaponics

There are many reasons aquaponics is so wonderful for season extension. Aquaponics systems use heat more efficiently, the growing media is always workable and they make use of the little light available most effectively.

Most farmers in our region are busy hibernating at this time of the year. Fields are under thick blankets of snow. Greenhouses are expensive to heat the traditional way, most farmers around here use wood boilers or oil burning ovens to keep their greenhouse air warm. But as we covered in the last article, it is far more cost-effective to heat the water in the aquaponics system than heating the air in a normal greenhouse. For one, the heat from the water eventually radiates up to the plants’ leaves. This is similar to how the heat of the Earth normally radiates up from the soil into the undercarriage of the plants. By heating the water, you heat the roots and plants and the air, all at a fraction of the cost of heating the air by itself!

Eager to get planting but held back by a snowy March? Luckily, aquaponics growing media is also always workable. The growing medium never freezes. There is no need to wait for soil to thaw out. There is no need to shovel snow or wait for it to melt. No need to battle early spring weeds or any of the other headaches typically associated with working the land after a hard winter. That means that you can get your plants in the ground as soon as the seedlings are ready.  

Finally, aquaponics provides such a rich environment to your new seedlings that they are able to best utilize whatever light is available in these early months. In normal soil conditions, plant roots must expend energy on extending themselves throughout the soil in search of nutrients. However in aquaponics, the roots are flooded with vital nutrients, water, and beneficial bacteria. There is no need to expend resources on root growth, so all energy is directed to actual plant growth. When a plant has so much of its needs cared for, the only limiting factor is the light. That means that whatever light is available, your aquaponics systems will make the best of it!

Altogether, aquaponics is a formidable growing system capable of adding an entire growing season to your year, if you’re in a winter climate.

Getting Ready for the Season to Come with a Hoop House

As we get ready to move into the Spring season, we are concentrating on three main things. First, we are selecting the plants we want to grow this Spring and settling on a planting schedule. Next, we are selecting the seeds and buying them. Finally, we’ll begin to plant them in our seeding area.

Trifecta Winter Aquaponics Oasis

 

Selecting your plants is always a fun task. Find a seed catalog from a company you like. We love Johnny’s Seeds from Maine. They are an employee owned company constantly innovating and raising new seeds using natural techniques. They offer a wide variety of unique heirloom, organic and highly productive plant varieties. Use their wide selection to find exactly the varieties of each plant you have chosen to grow this season. They have varietals with warm or cold tolerance, high-productivity, drought resistance, etc. Find a company you feel comfortable with and select your seeds carefully. Always keep in mind that the quality of your seed has everything to do with the quality of your harvest.

In order to set your seeding schedule, you will have to use the estimates provided by your seed provider. Different varieties can vary widely in their seeding and growing time so be sure to take that into account. Also, take into account whether or not the plant in question is a cut and come again plant or a single harvest. There are many resources for planning your planting schedule online, so don’t delay and get started today! Now is the perfect time to plan your season.

Next, you’ll need to set up your seeding area to bring all your new seeds to term! You can find seeding system kits online, but they are typically quite expensive. Pretty much every part you need can be found at your local department store. A shelving unit, some planting trays, some seeding medium (we use coconut coir) and a watering can. Put that up in your greenhouse and you’re off to the races! If you want to grow inside then attach some simple t5 grow lights to your shelving unit. Again, these lights can be found at any hardware store where common shop-lights are available. This will provide ample lighting for your young seedlings during their early stages of life.

Now we use these new seedlings to populate your aquaponics system and get a 2-month head start over the other farmers around here! You can get this kind of a leg up too when you use aquaponics for season extension.

 

Lets Hear Your Story!

Want to contribute to Aquaponic Abundance and advance winter aquaponics?  Do you have an aquaponics system in a wintery climate?  I’m looking to talk to any aquapioneer who is currently using aquaponics to extend their growing season.  You could see your name in this column by providing your story so others can learn!  Please, reach out on our Facebook or contact me directly at spencer@trifectaecosystems.com.


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