Too often, gardeners only grow summer crops, leaving the beds empty through the winter. In reality, in most places, we have the potential to produce food at home either year-round or close to it. It just requires a little planning, a good planting schedule, and a realistic outlook.
In the winter, there are some crops — many of the ones we are used to in the summer garden — that just won’t be possible to grow without a serious greenhouse at our disposal. However, there are other crops that actually prefer a little frost, ones that, given the right conditions, can give us fresh food into January and February.
For those who are willing to grow what works in colder weather, take a few precautions to provide them some protection and get ready for a second planting push in August — winter gardening can actually be a lot easier than growing in the summer.
Getting the Right Seeds Planted
For those who are really keen seasonal planters, the beginning of August can be a last ditched attempt at some of the fast-growing summer stuff. Quick producers like cucumbers and green beans might just provide some extra harvest before the frost hits. However, August is typically the time for planting winter gardens. Any later and they won’t have time to get big enough before the temperatures really plummet.
Winter gardens require plants that don’t mind getting cold. Tomatoes, squashes, and the rest of that summer lot start to die off once temperatures regularly dip into the 30s and 40s. However, there is a whole list of vegetable plants that begin to perk up when that happens.
Winter gardens need to be heavily composed of cruciferous vegetables: bok choy, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Root vegetables, like carrots, beets, and radishes, can withstand some cold. Salad greens — arugula, chard, lettuce, endive, parsley, mache — all work well into the winter. And, stuff from the onion family, such as leeks, chives, and scallions, can be included.
Preparing for the Winter Weather
All of the plants on the list above can withstand freezing temperatures, and many of them can take dips down into the lower twenties. However, some of the more extreme winter weather events can cause problems. Strong, cold winds can topple small plants, and snow can snap their stems and branches. So, they need a little shelter.
While most think of a greenhouse and serious expenses in this scenario, protecting cold-hardy plants doesn’t require us to go so far. There are some inexpensive ways to cultivate under cover in the winter. Container gardens, hooped rows, and cold frames all work very well for mitigating extreme winter weather and even lessening the frigidness.
In all likelihood, if reasonably protected from winds and not covered by snow, lots of these vegetables will make it unsheltered into December in at least half of the US. However, it’s worth going the extra mile to create some shelter for them. Cold frames and hoop houses can be built right over existing beds, but they should not be put in place until the weather poses a threat.
Making a Nice Snuggly Bed
Another thing that really helps winter crops that are grown outside is keeping the soil from freezing on them. This can cause serious problems with root vegetables and with the roots of other vegetables.
A thick layer of mulch, such as shredded leaves, pine needles, straw or hay, will insulate the ground. Having a bit of mulch or protection around the edges of the bed is a good idea as well. Not only will all of this mulch insulate, but it will produce a little heat while decomposing. And, the soil will remain moist, making watering almost a non-issue.
For those in places with really cold temperatures, it might help to add some stones in between plants. They are thermal masses that will collect heat from the sun during the day and release it at night. If the soil stays above freezing, the plants will likely be more productive.
Waiting for the Harvest
Lastly, the winter garden just takes a bit of patience. Once it is in place and growing, the plants should be allowed to establish themselves. The fall harvest will be coming in to supply plenty of food. As for the winter garden, the cold weather will make the plants go dormant or slow down their growth significantly, so the idea is to let the crops establish themselves before this happens. Then, it’s all about harvesting what’s there when it’s needed. The crops stay fresh right where they are planted.
In late winter, it’s time to plant these same vegetables again so that they can grow before the weather gets too warm.
Lead Image Source: Pixabay