By Amy Todisco
Not fond of sad looking greens shipped across the country in the winter that are virtually devoid of flavor and nutrients? Me too. Living in the Northeast, most of us have believed that we cannot grow fresh veggies in the winter with the lack of sunlight and bitterly cold temperatures. But, there are some folks who are growing and enjoying the fresh picked goodness of vegetables even when the temperature dips below freezing.
How? A variety of methods, from attached solar greenhouses to cold frame greenhouses with hoop tunnels, extra covers, heavy mulching and more. It’s important to keep the ground from freezing in your unheated greenhouse. Be aware that one row cover only offers an extra 2 degrees of protection per layer.
Mother Earth News Readers Top 5 Winter Protection methods:
- Use low tunnels made of plastic pipe bent over beds and covered with plastic sheeting.
- Cover crops heavily with straw or leaf mulch (this can create a haven for mice and moles).
- Grow in a greenhouse (many said a greenhouse had been their best garden investment).
- Cover crops with blankets, old sheets or row cover draped over stakes.
- Put hay bales on the sides of a planting bed and cover the area with old windows.
Choosing the right variety of seed is important as is the planting time. A well-established plant going into November will have a much better chance of surviving. Crops like spinach, kale and salad mixes can freeze and thaw, which actually lends a fabulous sweetness and tenderness to them that you don’t get in the summer.
According to Barbara Damrosch, Eliot Coleman’s wife, winter gardening is easy. She says that at any latitude there is enough winter sun to grow a variety of winter crops, such as:
- Space spinach,
- Lettuce (prefer leaf lettuce closely planted and cut at 3 inches), some of the most cold-hardiy lettuce varieties are ‘Red Oak Leaf’, and romaines such as ‘Winter Density’ and ‘Rouge d’Hiver.’ “Five Star’ lettuce mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine is mildew-resistant — an important trait if you grow in the wetter, more humid conditions of a greenhouse”, says Ms. Damrosch,
- Arugula (‘Astro’ and ‘Sylvetta’),
- Asian Greens like Tatsoi and “Mei Qing Choi,” a dwarf bok choy,
- Kale (“Winterbor’ is exceptionally vigorous and more cold-resistant — though less tasty — than the deep blue-green Tuscan kales, such as ‘Lacinato.’ ‘Even’ Star Smooth’ kale, hardy to 6 degrees Fahrenheit, is tender and sweet. Hardiest of all are the Siberian types, which are tender and have a milder flavor than other kales. Some of these, such as ‘True Siberian’ and ‘Western Front’ from Adaptive Seeds in Oregon, keep producing leaves all winter long,” according to Ms. Damrosch.),
- Then there is slow growing Mâche, reportedly one of the hardiest winter greens,
- Hardy parsley (choose the curly variety, such as Forest Green), and
Bread and Butter Farm in Shelburne, Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, and Hazendale Farm in Greensboro have been having success with winter growing, as has four season gardeners, Eliot Coleman and his wife in Maine. For more details, check in with them. Happy winter growing!
Want some interesting info about winter growing and storing, check out this study by NOFA:
or this posting on Wishing Stone Farm: http://bit.ly/WSFpost
Amy Todisco is an accomplished author on issues relating to health, sustainability, and organic gardening. She has co-authored a best-selling book, ‘How To Easily Grow Organic Food Almost Anywhere‘ and has been featured on Vermont Public Television and numerous other media. You can learn more about her at greenlivingnow.com.