Winter can be a very productive time to grow and harvest vegetables, even in some of the coldest areas of the country. Most seed catalogs are now offering a full array of fall and winter options. Freezing areas will need to use a cold frame, hoop or greenhouse, but in warmer climate areas, winter harvests can be even more productive than summer!
Consider these grow-in-the-ground winter options: Carrots, spinach, leeks, collards, parsnips, hardy salad greens (Mache, Claytonia, and some lettuces), cabbage, turnips, Swiss chard, and of course Kale. Plant in the sunniest location in your garden and make sure the plants are close to maturation before the sunlight is less than 10 hours a day. Some folks say plants should be almost finished growing by Thanksgiving and the rest of the time is basically used to keep the produce fresh. Think about saving your own seeds, they can become adapted to your own garden and winter growing conditions.
Make sure you know your growing zone and order seeds accordingly. Make use of the Farmer’s Almanac. This is a great resource for planning as their weather predictions are amazingly accurate.
At planting time, be sure to fertilize liberally. One of the good things about winter gardening is that weeds grow at a snail’s pace. Weed at the time of planting and you may not need to do it again until spring.
Using a greenhouse, cold frame or hoop tunnel can extend fall blooming plants as well as keep some crops growing indefinitely. Some areas may require a heater. Growing indoors, in a basement or garage, using grow lights can be very satisfactory. An enclosed porch or sunny window with shelves can be a real space saving idea while using solar energy instead of electric lights. Growing under glass windows, leaning on each other, works well for makeshift cold frames. Raised beds built by rock walls and the south side of a structure can help keep plants warm.
If you decide to use a greenhouse, plastic or glass season extender, don’t forget to create some air circulation on sunny days to avoid burning plants. Don’t water too much during the winter as these structures create condensation and hold moisture
Using coverings to protect your crops such as mulch made of straw, leaves, black plastic sheets, cardboard or cotton material can be used to protect plants. Make sure the beds drain well so ice buildup is avoided. Shield from Wind! Make sure your coverings are secured firmly. Nothing is more frustrating than to see your mulch bunched up against a garden fence after working so hard to cover fragile plants. It is a good practice to leave the plants uncovered as long as possible as air movement is beneficial. Make sure to keep an eye out for slugs as they love to hide and breed in mulch and can decimate tender plants in just one night.
It is never too early to plan your winter garden. In spring, decisions need to be made where to plant summer crops that will be overwintered in the sunniest locations. Keeping a journal helps to remember lessons learned.
So, get adventurous and grown a winter garden, even if it’s just a few pots that you bring inside. Pick fresh vegetables all year long, no matter your growing area and keep an eye on those seed catalogs, more and more hardy winter varieties are being developed all the time.
Cady Davies has always played in the dirt. She loves sharing her passion for gardening with the world and helps run a website helping gardeners to get outside any time of year by selling greenhouse kits. Browse their selection now at http://www.thegreenhousekits.com