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Eliot Coleman writes in The Winter Harvest Handbook that once day length reaches 10 hours, plants will start growing rapidly. By mid-February, virtually all of the U.S. has more than 10 hours of daylight. In theory, we could all start growing this month! But, of course, temperature is also a factor that affects plant growth and in quite a bit of the U.S., the temperature is still too low.
Growers with hoophouses, however, know that conditions are much warmer under that single layer of greenhouse poly. And if they have a low tunnel inside the hoophouse, they know it's positively spring-like some days in February. And so it does become possible to start growing this month.
The key to hoophouse planting this month is to choose crops that can tolerate cold temperatures and light frosts. Most can be direct seeded now and they will grow as soon as the soil temperature is warm enough for germination. With that inner layer of row cover held above the young plants, temperatures will be warm enough to keep them thriving.
Crops that can be seeded in late winter in the hoophouse: arugula, beets, carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, mustard, parsley, peas, radish, salad greens, scallions, spinach, and turnips.
Here's the seeding schedule used by Adam Montri, hoophouse outreach specialist at Michigan State University.
Reprinted from JSS Advantage February 2011