The Best Winter Crops and Cold-Hardy Foods To Grow
At this point in the season, your vegetable garden has likely seen better days… But if your beans are burned out and your cucumbers are kaput, take heart in the fact that there is still much gardening left to do! In fact, with proper planning and care, there is no reason you won’t be able to harvest fresh vegetables nearly year-round! So if you aren’t ready to shut down your garden until spring, read on… We’ve got a number of tips and tricks to keep your garden and kitchen stocked with fresh veggies even through the harsh months of winter.
To accomplish a successful winter vegetable garden, you simply need to be able to solve a few simple questions, namely, what, where, when, and how. That is, what to plant, where and when to plant it, and how to keep it growing.
What to Plant
There are a number of vegetables that are more resistant to colder temperatures, and even enhanced by a bit of frost. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on 10 of our favorites. In alphabetical order, they are: Cabbage, carrots, collard greens, leeks, lettuce, kale, parsnips, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips. We will provide extra information and tips to grow these vegetables in the “how” section of this article, but first, there are a few other things to consider.
Where to Plant
To be as best prepared as possible for some of the natural challenges you will face by gardening through the winter, you need to be familiar with the regional limitations of where you live and garden. That includes the average annual extreme minimum temperature, approximate depth of frost, as well as the first expected killing frost. To find this out, you can contact your local agriculture extension service or familiarize yourself with the needs of your area on the USDA website.
No matter what Mother Nature has in store for you in your region, however, there are ways to extend your growing season and minimize the effects of the weather on your winter garden:
Location, Location, Location
A popular and simple tip to shield winter vegetables from the elements is to plant them along the south side of a building. This will maximize the plants’ exposure to the sun while helping keep them protected from harsh winter winds. An alternative method is to build makeshift windbreaks around your growing area to protect them in the same way.
Raised Planting Beds
The soil in a raised bed will stay warmer than the rest of the ground, so for winter gardening it is a good idea to plant in one. One popular way to create a raised bed that will maximize the effects of the sun is to build it atop old tires. The black rubber of the
tires will absorb the suns heat and further heat the elevated soil. Some people do not like the potential chemical seepage of this method though, so do some research and decide if this method of raised gardening is right for you.
Cloches are another great way to control the climate around your vegetables, assuming you don’t have a greenhouse at your disposal. A cloche is essentially a portable, miniature greenhouse made to fit over an individual plant and keep it warm and protected from the elements. On warmer days of winter, these may actually need to be opened to allow some heat to escape.
If you don’t care to purchase or build individual cloches, there is an easy way to create a larger version using ½ inch PVC pipe and plastic sheeting. Simply make an arch over your growing area with pipe and cover it with clear plastic. Depending on the size of the garden you intend to grow, you will need at least one arch for each end of the row and perhaps one or more in the middle. Take care with cloches that the plastic doesn’t come in direct contact with the foliage of the plants, as in cold conditions this can actually cause more damage to the plant than no protection at all.
Once your plants are established, a healthy layer of mulch around them will provide a good degree of additional insulation to the plants and underlying roots. If conditions in your region are warm enough, the mulch will also slowly break down and continue to release extra nutrients into the soil, essentially self-fertilizing the plants for you.
When to Plant
Timing and planning are key in a successful winter garden. Depending on your region, what you plant, and when you intend to harvest given vegetables, you will need to back-date your planting accordingly. If growing from seeds (often the most economical choice as they are often on sale this time of year), the approximate dates from sown to grown are available directly on the back of the seed packet. As a good rule of thumb, you will want to add a few weeks to the number provided though, as late-season growing is often a bit slower than that in warmer months.
If growing from seedlings, the same maturation information is often available on the tag, or from your local garden center.
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