The winter garden
Now is the time to start planning next year’s winter garden. We will harvest throughout the winter from crops that were started as early as February. Most of our winter veggies are planted by mid – July at the latest. So in order to do that, I need to make my garden plans now to allow for planting my winter foraging crops alongside my summer crops. Maybe the hardest part to think about concerning winter gardening is that you will be harvesting your crops – not watching them grow. Some greens will grow slowly if planted late, but for optimum nutrition and plant hardiness, most vegetables should be mature by the time the short days of September arrive.
Root crops are the most common. Beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, and celeriac are our mainstays for winter fare. All of these are good candidates for leaving in the soil where they grew and mulching, allowing you to harvest as needed. Celeriac is especially useful, if properly mulched, the tops also survive through the winter and provide celery flavor for soups and stuffings. These are all candidates for the root cellar too if you are so inclined.
Another mainstay in our winter garden is Kale. One of the most cold hardy plants we grow, and oh, so productive. We can eat it all winter and it provides plenty of greens for the hens too. It tolerates repeated freezing and thawing, and survives the winter only to put on large amounts of tender flower stalks or rapini for that first taste of spring broccoli. It is best for the plant to not totally pick all the leaves if you want the plant to survive the winter. Leave some leaves for protection from the inclement weather. Better to plant several plants and harvest a little bit from each for your meals. I start my winter kale in June, for July transplanting and we don’t start harvesting until the cool weather hits. Like many fall and winter crops, cooler temperatures enhances the flavor of kale. And geez, the shapes and colors of the different varieties are fascinating – kale fits the ornamental bill too!
Two things to remember about winter harvesting, and the sun is involved. If your kale or other greens are frosted like these kales shown above – wait until the frost or ice is gone to harvest. If you harvest when the leaves are frozen you will end up with mush. In the winter, plants also concentrate nitrates in their leaves on cloudy days, so if you can time your harvests for sunny periods that is much better.
Another overlooked vegetable is over-wintering cabbages. This is January King, started in June, transplanted in July, it will mature between December and March. I have grown this for years and find it to be trouble-free, and very tasty. Another contender that has a long growing season is over-wintering cauliflower. Planting a few of these types of plants can provide a fresh vegetable in the lean months of April, when the new garden is just getting started.
Pore over seed catalogs and look for varieties that are cold hardy, and have long growing seasons. As a general rule, we have an overlap of varieties in our garden, the beets I grow for summer eating are different from the variety I over-winter, and the same goes for carrots. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different varieties and different seasons. Kale in July and August is not something I would choose to eat, but in October what a difference, after a few light frosts, sweet and delicious!
Bring on the seed catalogs!!