Vegetables In The Winter Garden – 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 people 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. Use 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. 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.