So You Want To Start a Winter Garden…
Vegetables? In Winter? Why not? We usually think of the vegetable garden as something to set out in the spring, grow all summer and harvest in the fall, but there are several ways to have fresh winter vegetables in a winter garden as well.
You do need to live in an area where frost and snow are not permanent features of winter and you may even be lucky enough to live in an area where they are just infrequent, unwelcome guests in your thriving winter garden. In many regions December is still mild enough to plant a garden and get fresh vegetables in early spring.
Many greens, herbs and salad crops will grow well in cool weather – Arugula and Chervil are some winter vegetables that actually do better in short, cool days, putting on lots of green leaves and not running to seed. Most kinds of lettuce do well too and your winter salads will be brighter if you choose a mesclun mix, rather than a plain lettuce variety for your winter garden.
Winter vegetables like radish and carrots will grow fast and be ready to pull by the end of winter or even earlier. Hardy peas can be sown now too and will give you a great early crop. Varieties like Little Marvel will be ready to harvest early and can be cleared away for later crops.
Preparing For Your Winter Garden
First, you need to prepare a suitable area for your winter gardening. Dig over the patch you have chosen – make it close to the house if you can, and find a sunny spot that is well drained. If you use raised beds you will find these especially worthwhile for a winter garden – if you don’t, now is the time to try them out. The improved drainage will keep the soil warmer and reduce diseases. Add compost or any organic material you can, fork it in and level it.
In cooler areas some kind of cover for winter vegetables is a very useful tool for your gardening. There are a variety of covers available such as frames and plastic tunnels which are great if your garden is mostly snow-free. A very useful, cost-effective covering for winter gardening in milder areas is Reemay. This polyester fabric is draped over winter vegetables and will warm them, protect them from frost and expand as they grow.
For a completely different approach you need to plan ahead. Radicchio (Chicory) varieties like the red Rosa de Verona can be produced indoors in your basement or any cooler place with the temperature about 55oF. Dark is necessary, so any cupboard can become a winter garden. Grow the plants during the summer, dig up the roots in late fall, cut off the leaves and pack them into a box with some damp peat. The big, fat tasty buds that will grow make great winter vegetables in salads. Or grill them and use in lasagne with a gorgonzola sauce – fantastic!
Winter gardening is a fun and productive way to increase your supply of winter vegetables and is definitely something to plan for this time of year. Your winter garden will pay you back well for the little work and planning it takes.