It’s important to realize, as gardeners, that our season does not begin with late spring and end with early autumn. There are lots of plants that will grow well into the winter and like to germinate when the weather isn’t too warm. In other words, fresh vegetables are possible for all or most of the year in most places, and that’s without a greenhouse.
Greens are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, providing a host of vitamins and minerals. For the most part, greens are cold weather crops. When sensitive stuff like tomatoes and green beans have long since waved bye-bye, greens will continue churning out fresh leaves and keeping our diets on track.
The other great thing is that, despite being ubiquitously leafy, greens have unique flavors and textures that keep the winter harvest both interesting and diverse. There are a lot of greens to choose from for cold weather gardens.
When a taste of the South is what’s for dinner, a mess of collard greens has to be on the menu. Collards are part of the cabbage family, which will feature prominently in any winter garden. They can survive temperatures well below freezing, and they improve with taste after they’ve endured a frost (true for many on this list).
Kale has really grown in popularity in the last decade. Known to be highly nutritious, it is also a great survivor. It’s very productive in cooler weather, and though it might get eaten and appear questionable in the summer months, kale is capable of making a comeback for an autumn-winter crop. It’s a wonderful pick-and-eat green.
Spinach isn’t interested in warm weather at all. Planted in the spring, it will bolt as soon as things start heating up. And, in the fall, it doesn’t want to germinate until temperatures have truly cooled off for good. Obviously, we know its reputation as a vitamin powerhouse, so why wouldn’t we plant some for the winter?
There are loads of delicious “Asian” greens, most of which are linked to the cabbage family, to include in the cold weather garden. Tatsoi is probably the number one pick because it is amongst the hardiest. But, also, what makes it great is that the leaf is sturdy enough for stir-fries and tender enough for salad. Another great Asian green for the list is bok choy.
One of the hardiest greens, mâche is more or less a gardener’s treat. It doesn’t ship well and rarely turns up at farmers’ markets. It also grows very slowly. However, it survives those cold temperatures and provides a delicious green that seems tailor-made for transporting vinaigrette from plate to mouth.
Native to the United States, particularly the West Coast, claytonia is more often referred to as miner’s lettuce. It can be foraged in areas around San Francisco, where gold miners used it as, one might have guessed by now, lettuce. It’s too delicate for cooking but has wonderfully tasty leaves for salads. With a little protection, it may withstand the entire winter.
With a fresh, spicy flavor about it, arugula has the reputation for bolting in warm weather, and it is fabulous at enduring cooler times. There are even perennial versions of it (“Sylvetta”), and it’s very adept at seeding itself for the next season. Arugula is a tasty salad green, and it does something amazing when riding a slice of pizza.
More so than the other greens on this list, chard can work well in both summer and winter. It’s a little more tolerant of the heat and perhaps a little less tolerant of the cold, though it can still withstand freezing temperatures. The great thing about including it in the mix is that chard can add some different colors to cold weather dishes.
It seems apparent with so many plants from the cabbage family on this list that cabbage itself would make it as well. Cabbage is often planted in early spring for a summer harvest, but it does well for the autumn garden. In fact, like other greens, its flavor may actually improve after a frost.
While most popular culinary herbs close up shop for winter, parsley prefers the cold. It can add some fresh flavor atop soups and stews, and it makes very tasty spreads, such as chimichurri. Parsley can also zip up a salad.
Summer may be the time when gardens overflow with squashes and cucumbers, but winter is when it can bustle with greens. Those greens are most definitely worth growing and are nutrient dense additions to the winter diet and a flash of color in snowy terrain.
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