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The winter garden

November 10, 2009


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!!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2009 8:35 am

    Excellent article! With the root vegetables, have you found the earth to be too hard to dig some of these up?

    • November 10, 2009 9:26 am

      Annette, I hill with soil, and dig about once a week. If we are going to have a long cold spell, I dig enough to last the duration. Pretty soon, when I start feeding out the roots to the family cow, I’ll be digging larger quantities. Our soil doesn’t freeze too deeply, so a light mulch of soil (6″ – 8″) works well here. The roots do have to be kept from freezing – so if you have to mulch accordingly. Gardeners north of here in BC use entire straw bales over their roots and it is cold up there! Also snow is a great insulator protecting the ground from freezing.

  2. Ali permalink
    November 10, 2009 10:24 am

    What is overwintering cauliflower — is this a type, or a process? I’d love to hear more.


    • November 10, 2009 4:50 pm

      Ali, overwintering cauliflower has a long growing season and matures the following spring. It may work in your area with a little cover during the worst months.

      Territorial Seed winter catalog carries the varieties. Purple Cape and Galleon have done well here.

  3. Genevieve permalink
    November 10, 2009 11:22 am

    Hi, I’ve been really enjoying reading your blog! As a very novice gardener, I’m learning a lot! I’m almost done reading Growing Vegetables West Of The Cascades and like the year long planting schedule, although it seems a bit generic to me. Do you have anything like that, that you’d be willing to share? I know I’m going to be taking this one day and one planting at a time, but I also need to keep the big picture in mind! thanks

    • November 10, 2009 4:45 pm

      Genevieve, thanks! You can’t go wrong with GVWotC, although make sure it is the later editions. Solomon himself, recommends only the editions from #3 on.

      Here is an early blog post of mine with my vegetable list – it hasn’t changed much since I wrote it in 2008.

      Your conditions are pretty similar to mine so most of these varieties should do well in your garden as well 🙂

  4. November 10, 2009 1:46 pm

    Great info! Thanks.

  5. November 10, 2009 4:33 pm

    Nita, your pics are just always so wonderful. Your skill with catching the light and the colors is remarkable. Another wonderful, informative post. And I’ll echo Ali’s question above…. what is over-wintering cauliflower?

  6. November 10, 2009 4:52 pm

    Hayden, I’m guessing the icy kale pictures are the ones you are speaking of – and I have to give credit to the kid for those two! I take the boring beet and celeriac pictures usually 🙂

    See my reply to Ali about the cauliflower 🙂

  7. November 11, 2009 8:51 am

    I confess utter confusion about the whole “kale tastes better after a frost” thing. I’ll certainly eat kale after the frost, but my kale has always been tender and sweet from first pickin’s in late May or or early June right through Thanksgiving (Michigan/Zone 5b). In fact, I think most kale loses character and texture after frost. I’ve grown many varieties; the curly kales are generally tougher than the Russian or “wild” types, and lacinato/dino kale withstands cold really well.

    So if you’re shy to try kale because you think it’s inedible in August, I suggest trying it and seeing – it might be just fine in your location!

    • November 11, 2009 1:44 pm

      Emily, probably because it freezes so much harder in your zone than here it does lose a lot of it’s goody. Kale is one of those funny things that when we included it in our mesclun mix, people almost always complained about it. Probably just depends on the area and the age of the plant. White Russian is purported to be cold hardy and it almost always freezes out here, yet Lacinato, or any of Frank Morton’s crosses always perform like champs.

      Your comment is perfect because it illustrates how different everyone’s climate is – and one size does not fit all, especially in gardens 🙂

  8. November 11, 2009 11:56 am

    I’d love to be able to leave root veggies in but alas it just gets TOO cold. I have dug a pit, lined it with straw and covered it back in with soil so I had “fresh” carrots in the early spring or during a warm spell in the winter.

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