You don’t have to say farewell to your garden this winter. Even if you live in a climate that experiences harsh, winter weather, if you are willing to protect your plants with cloches, cold frames, or hoop houses, you can successfully garden year round. Growing crops in the winter are great because it allows you to grow seasonal crops like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and carrots. In addition, there is less work involved in winter gardening — the sun’s intensity has faded, there are fewer insects, and the soil retains moisture longer. So, if you are tempted to start your own winter garden, read the tips below for advice.
Preparing Your Winter Garden
Begin by turning the soil, removing perennial weeds and grasses, and amending it with compost. You should consider growing plants in raised beds because this will keep the soil well drained and prevent water logging.
Best Winter Crops
Greens such as arugula, spinach, collards, lettuce, swiss chard, mustard, and kale, tend to thrive during the winter season. Roots crops, such as carrots, beets, onions, and radishes also do well. Brassicas, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, form large heads during the winter. Lastly, legumes, such as fava beans and peas, grow and flourish during this season. All these cold-loving vegetables have better flavor and texture than if you tried to grow them during the heat of spring or summer.
Protecting Against Insects
While most pests are not active in winter, cabbage worms and slugs continue to be problematic throughout the winter. You can identify their presence by looking for cabbage worm droppings on your brassica plants. If you encounter any, immediately spray pesticide to control them.
Slugs and snails are a particular problem in cool areas. Since slugs and snails do not like touching copper, you can protect your crops with raised beds with copper flashing. Also, consider covering your plants with a floating row cover tucked tightly into the soil to prevent the snails and slugs from entering the bed.
Overcoming Harsh Winter Conditions
If you encounter freezing temperatures, a row cover can protect plants while also allowing light, rain, and air to benefit the plants.
Harvesting Your Crops
Harvest your crops as needed. While many vegetables are picked and finished, such as cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, and beets, some keep producing new crops in winter. Many greens, such has spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix, can be cut a number of times to the ground and allowed to regrow in winter. As long as the temperatures stay cool, they will not bolt. Broccoli heads will continue to send out side shoots, and peas and fava beans will continue to flower and fruit. Even if they go into a holding pattern during December and January, they will quickly start growing and producing again when the longer days arrive in February.
With planning and proper maintenance, you can enjoy a winter garden that provides fresh produce to your family right through the dark days until spring.