Winter Harvest Plans
ou know what they say about plans…well, they say a lot of things. What I say about my winter garden harvest plans is – plan for abundance because winter gardening is a whole different ball game than summer gardening. Critters are hungrier, the weather is frightful, and plant quality suffers over time. In my location we can only winter harvest reliably, not winter grow.
I’m kind of a path-of-least resistance type of gal. I grow what will make it over winter and leave the growing out-of-season boasting for other folks. What makes it over winter here may not be what works in your location. The usual disclaimer – mileage may vary, in your garden, in your location. And a biggie, grow what your family will eat, there are many cold hardy greens available but taste and texture always come into play when planning what to plant.
Outside, the usual cast of characters are biding their harvest time. Beets, carrots, rutabagas, celeriac, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and some late broccoli and romanesco are all in the holding pattern. Some will make it through the cold snaps and others won’t. We try to eat all we grow, but sometimes Mother Nature deals the hard freeze card and turns your veggies to mush. I always plant more than I need. If I think I need 40 heads of cabbage for kraut, coleslaw and sauteing, I will seed 60, it’s a long way from a seed to a Reuben sandwich.
Inside currently I have growing what I hope will be winter greens for us through spring. Kale, kale and kale. No joking aside, kale can almost become a perennial here in the Northwest; cold hardy, and tasty during the winter it provides greens for many months for us and the hens, and in spring when it bolts the tender shoots are better than spring broccoli and about 99% less work. We are taking the skin off the greenhouses for winter, so I planned to grow inside what would normally survive our typical winter, because actually it will be outside. One big plus will be that I need not provide any protection from hungry deer and elk as they relish sweet kale too during the winter
I planted these plants in July in preparation of a winter full of harvests. That timing works best for me to have the plants be mature enough to sustain continued harvest for the kale at least (the cabbage won’t last that long). The kale and chard tend to go dormant during the cold, short days of January and February, but as soon as the days start to get a little warmer they will start growing again allowing for some more harvesting.
Being an optimistic gardener (the only variety of gardener I know) I plant bok choy for winter too. Instead of harvesting each head we take a leaf from each plant, and many times you will get some side shoot production too. Sometimes the bok choy makes it all winter, sometimes it doesn’t. One thing I know for sure, is that if I don’t plant it, then there will be no bok choy in the garden. So I go into this venture with an open mind, we may be eating bok choy for many months or it may only last until Christmas.
Kale is a beautiful and tasty plant besides being a workhorse in the garden. I planted Lacinato, White Russian, Red Russian, Hunger Gap, Redbor, Lacinato Rainbow. All are veterans in our garden except Hunger Gap which is new to us this year. Most of these make it through the winter so with a variety and numerous plants I can insure that I should have something to harvest throughout the dark days.
Other candidates in the greens department are cress, minutina, chicory, along with some lettuces and arugula. I’ve grown those with mixed results, and found them to be a hard sell at the dinner table and somewhat hard to keep from rotting in the dampness due to their tender nature, with the exception of chicory which is very hardy but very bitter even with cold weather tempering it. But that is just us, you may find your family a little more adventuresome in the winter salad department… .
My best advice for winter harvesting is to think about what you purchase in the winter and see if you can feasibly grow it in your area. What is available at local farmers markets, or through your local CSA? If the vegetable is available locally during the winter, then it’s a good bet you can grow the same thing in your garden too.
Then you need to decide how much effort do you want to put into gardening during the winter months? The answers range from none to a lot, only you can decide. For us I find it easier to give myself a break and embrace what is easy to grow and harvest or store through the winter months. That takes some attitude adjustment though and tweaking the garden calendar in your mind. We eat carrots from August through April and then we take a break, and by that time I don’t really mind that I’m not eating carrots during the summer because there are so many other good things at their peak that are not enjoyable during the winter or are hard to grow. Think about your garden/pantry as your “store,” but your own special store, a seasonal store that showcases the best each garden season has to offer and you’ll do great at winter garden harvesting!