Even when the warm weather fades and frost makes an appearance, it is possible to have a flourishing garden. By choosing the right plants and following some simple tips, you can be harvesting all-year round.
When to Plant
How harsh your winters are will depend largely on where you are located. People in the Southern states, where winters are milder, can get away with simply planting hardy crops. For those up North, you may need some sort of winter-protection device in order to extend your growing season. A cold frame, unheated greenhouse, hot bed, or hood tunnel can help give your plants better odds at surviving. With these, some of the natural heat from the earth is captured and the wind is blocked.
When you should plant your garden will depend largely on where you are in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. There are nine different zones, all with different dates for their first “killing frost.” With this information, you can decide what to plant and when it needs to be in the ground in order for you to be able to successfully harvest it.
Consider What to Plant
There are several crops that are quite hardy. What you choose to plant will depend on how long you want it to take for the plants to mature, as well as what your personal preferences are.
Quickly Maturing Crops
If you are looking for something that will mature in approximately 40 days, consider planting:
- Bok Choi: Try Mei Qing Choi
- Arugula: Try Astro or Sylvetta varieties• Spinach: Try Olympia, Giant Winter, Tarpy, Tee, or Winter
- Bloomsdale varieties
- Lettuce: Try Romaine, Leaf, Lollo, or Winter Density varieties
- Chicory: Try Sugarloaf or Radicchio varieties
- Endive: Try Perfect, President, or De Meaux varieties
- Salad Greens: Try Dandelion, Watercress, and Mustard Greens
Middle Maturing Crops
For those who are wanting crops that mature in the 55 to 70-day range, consider the following options:
- Turnips: Try Golden Globe, White Egg, and Colleto Viola varieties
- Radish: Try Cherry Belle, Daikon, and Tinto varieties
- Kale: Try Siberian, Winterbor, Vates, and Westland Winter varieties
- Chard: Try Fordhook Giant and Green types• Collards: Try Blue Max, Winner, and Morris Heading
- Leeks: Try Lexton, American Flag, Lincoln, Alaska, King Richard, Bandit, and Tadorna varieties
- Scallion: Try White Lisbon
Slowing Maturing Crops
If you are the patient type, there are several winter crops that will be ready to harvest in approximately 100 days:
- Cabbage: Try Marabel and January King
- Carrots: Try Autumn King, Oxheart, and Danvers
- Parsnip: Try Hollow Crown or Lancer• Brussel Sprouts
- Try Jade Cross
- Onions: Try Walla-Walla
- Beets: Try Albina Verduna or Lutz Winterkeeper
Watering Plants in the Winter
After you have picked and planted your garden, it will just be a matter of maintenance. Even if you live in a dry area, you will not need to water as often in the cold months. This is due to the fact that less sunlight equals less evaporation. If you add mulch, your soil can maintain its moisture up to 25% better.
The winter-protection device you went with can impact how often you need to water. Cold frames often eliminate the need completely from November to February. Outside of that range, once a week watering should be plenty when it is cold. Hoop tunnels may also reduce the need to water, although not to the same extent.
The best thing you can do is just feel your soil often. If it feels dry, water it. alternatively if you own a soil moisture meter these work great too.
Harvesting Plants in the Winter
As for harvesting, you will want to harvest in the mid-afternoon. Although your plants can survive freezing and thawing throughout the winter, you will want to harvest when they are thawed. This is why you want to wait until the time of day it is above freezing where you live. As soon as your plants are out of the ground, they will be very sensitive to the cold.
Bring a covered basket or bucket for transporting your harvest back into the house to ensure they make it. You will want to simply take what is ready to harvest and possibly trim a few leaves. Leave the roots in place. This will encourage the plant to continue growing as well as extend the life of it.
Gardening in the harsh winter months is not ideal for everyone. If you are someone that is willing to brave the harsh conditions, you can find yourself with fresh vegetables on your table year-round. It may take some experimentation to find out what grows best in your climate and garden, but it will ultimately be worth it.