Thursday, June 5, 2014

Winter Vegetable Garden

Just because it's winter doesn't mean you have to stop gardening (you don't stop eating do you?).  Winter gardening is a challenge (although not as challenging as digging a hole with your bare paws), but it can be done.

Originally posted 12-11-10

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Digger has a cold, wet, black nose.

The Low-Down on Winter Vegetable Gardening

When planning your winter vegetable garden, there are four things that you should consider:
  • Where plant your garden
  • When to plant your garden
  • What to plant in your garden
  • How to protect your garden

Where, oh Where, Is Your Garden

Where you live will be the most important determining factor in your winter garden planning.  If you are a gardener in the northern part of the country (you know - the ones with the red noses), greenhouses and cold frames are a must.

Fortunate gardeners in more southern zones (you know - the ones with the tanned noses) have it made as far as winter gardening is concerned.  Gardeners in the most southern of southern zones can even grow summer vegetables (they have red noses, too,  but it's from sunburn).

But not to worry if you're one of those (cold) red-nosed gardeners.  If you're willing to put out a little (well, actually a lot) of extra effort, you can protect your plants from the winter elements and maximize the weak winter sunlight.

When To Plant Your Winter Garden

Timing is everything.  It's imperative to know when the first and last frost occurs in your particular zone.  You want to plant any frost hardy plants at the beginning of winter and again towards the end of winter. 

What To Plant in Your Winter Vegetable Garden

Only the most hardy of hardy vegetables can take hard freezes, so plant as soon as you can and protect them for as long as you can.  Consider days to maturity as well as cold hardiness when choosing your winter garden vegetables.  For instance:
  • 90 Days until Maturity:
    Glove onion
    Brussels sprouts
  • 60 Days until Maturity:
    Early Carrot
    Early Cabbage
  • 30 Days Until Maturity:
    Leaf lettuce
Some vegetables actually improve in flavor after a light frost, so in this case frost is a good thing.  As for root vegetables, protected by a heavy mulch, they can be left in the ground well into winter.

Protecting Your Winter Vegetable Garden

There are several ways to protect the vegetables in your winter garden:
  • Cloches:  Portable mini-greenhouses for individual plants
  • Raised Beds:  The soil stays warmer longer and you can put black tires or black plastic on them to produce solar heating. 
  • Green houses:  Heated would be great, but you can also fill black barrels with water to solar heat in the daytime that provides  heat over night.  Also, heated stones will keep your plants warm.
  • Mulch:  Heavy mulch can extend your growing season and keep the plant's roots from freezing.
Taking the extra effort to extend your growing season into the winter months will pay off big time in fresh vegetables from your own garden.  At a time when vegetables from the store are more expensive, not as fresh, or non-existent, you can be enjoying the "fruits (or vegetables) of your labor" in these cold winter months.

Should make that big red nose feel a little better.

Winter Garden Resources:

Fertilizer for winter vegetable garden
Organic fertilizer for your winter garden
Make your own garden fertilizer with earthworms.

Vermicomposting Supplies:

Red Worms and Free Vermicomposting Guide

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