Let’s say that winter is approaching and you’re sad at the prospect of no fresh vegetables on the table. Don’t be sad – be happy that you have an opportunity to be a vegetable gardener all year long.
With the simple addition of clear coverings, you can coax any number of vegetables into providing you with a nice harvest well into the winter. With a little planning, your season of vegetable gardening doesn’t have to end with shorter and colder days of winter.
My experience in November in Wyoming, with temperatures in the teens and twenties, shows healthy and vigorous turnips, lettuce, bok choi and Swiss chard in a single layer greenhouse. The greenhouse isn’t heated either.
How in the world can you do that without heat? It’s easy, just select cold hardy plants that enjoy cool and cold weather. There are about 20 varieties that I can think of, including:
* Brussels sprouts
* snow peas
* Swiss chard
And, the list goes on and on. Some seed companies provide fall and winter seed catalogs, so you won’t have to look far for advice.
The trick is to watch how you water, double cover the plants, and harvest when temperatures are well above freezing. That should be easy enough. Let’s look at how these factors come into play with a winter vegetable garden.
Water – excess water gets into plant cells and then kills them when it freezes. Water lightly or not at all during the winter months. Evaporation will be low anyway, so going weeks or months without water won’t hurt your crops.
Coverings – the trick with covers is to use them to retain natural heat from the soil and capture heat from the sun. Think of them as a greenhouse within a greenhouse. Whether you have a greenhouse or a high tunnel or a hoop house, using a row cover inside of that structure will make a big difference in changing what the plants “see” in terms of season.
Harvest during the day – to make certain that temperatures are up above freezing and the plants have a chance to recover from the cold night. If you don’t, you’ll have mush on your hands.
My early spring vegetable gardening experience shows that lettuce can go down to 9 degrees F with a simple covering within the greenhouse. If lettuce can do it, then there are so many other cold hardy crops that can easily do it. Kale is perhaps one of the most cold hardy crops, so it is on the top of my cold weather vegetable gardening list.
Be bold, be adventurous, and don’t surrender at the first sign of fall. Get yourself a simple structure and row covers to extend your harvest well into the winter months. Fresh vegetables are meant to be enjoyed all year long – from your garden.
Clair Schwan is an experienced vegetable gardener year round. See how he accomplishes winter vegetable gardening with his homemade greenhouses. The key is to grow cold weather vegetables so you’re not fighting nature.