Last year was the hottest year on record. As was the year before that. As was the year before that. It's safe to say that climate change is wreaking havoc on agricultural industries all over the world. As a sustainable grower, I have to closely observe my surroundings in order to cleverly adapt to more extreme weather patterns.
With summers are getting hotter and winters are getting more extreme, the edges of the growing season (early-early spring and late fall) are becoming increasingly conducive to growing produce and flowers. If you're in Zone 7 or lower (like I am here in Memphis) you can go ahead and plant your leafy greens now, as long as you have row covers in place to protect your plants in case the weather turns frigid again.
I use low tunnels to cover my plants. Here's how I make them: my raised beds are four feet wide. Starting at the very end of the bed and then every three feet following, I screw on a 1/2 inch by ten foot long PVC pipe to the sides of the bed using a 1/2 inch pipe strap, two inch decking screws, and my trusty drill. You can modify your spacing to create an even spacing for your bed length, but I like to keep the low tunnel hoops between two and three feet apart. (If you have a lot of snow, err on the side of having the hoops closer together!) I bend the PVC pipes over the beds into a half-hoop formation and then attach it to the other side, also using a pipe strap and deck screws. Then, I cover my beds with frost cloth. I like Agribon 19. It keeps everything under the frost cloth four to five degrees warmer; however, it's permeable, so it allows through light and moisture. To attach the frost cloth to my PVC pipes, I use two inch Snap Clamps, available at any online greenhouse supplier. I place snap clamps on the tops and sides of each of the hoops.
The hoops are nice to have around in the summer, too. You can increase the yield from your tomatoes, peppers, squash, and even delicate flowers like dahlias by covering your beds with a 30% shade cloth. For my beds that are in full sun for 11 or 12 hours a day, I'll even cover them with a 50% shade cloth during the hottest months of the year. It will keep your soil cooler and your plants healthier.
If this all seems like it's too much fuss, but you still have the urge to get in the dirt, go out and plant something like sorrel or spinach. I planted my sorrel in late November, and never covered it once. It survived ice, snow, and a week below freezing. The lemony flavor is unbeatable and brightens up dark winter days.
What are your favorite cold-tolerant garden plants?