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Winter Harvest Plans

October 26, 2012

You 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.

Winter Rye cover crop – main garden

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.

Main garden – root crops

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.

Superschmelz kohlrabi

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 😦

Watering in cover crop – Greenhouse 2

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.

If we get a hard freeze, the chard will be shot, so we have been harvesting that a little harder than the kale.

Joi Choi

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.

White Russian

Hunger Gap by Carol Deppe

Lacinato Rainbow

Five color silverbeet

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!

23 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2012 8:31 am

    What do you make with the greens? I imagine a LOT of stir fry, but I suspect you do more than one dish with them. I think we could grow such things easily over the winter here in central Texas. the hard part will be keeping the weeds down! And I love the idea of buying less from the grocery store. I really think fall and winter are our prime gardening times, spring and summer is just too hot for most things.

    • October 26, 2012 8:48 am

      Mama Rachael, we do lots of stir fry, or kale rolls, but mostly just a quick saute with garlic or onion and some balsamic vinegar. I think you’re right the difference in the seasons, all these greens and mustards too would excel in your climate in the winter 🙂

  2. Dana S permalink
    October 26, 2012 8:53 am

    I’ve never thought about my winter garden as a pantry, but it makes total sense! Nothing really “grows”, it sort of maintains it’s size at best. My garage freezer is full of summer berries, so I couldn’t fit another thing in there anyway. My new snow peas are all coming in now and I’m excited to try them. I also planted a fall crop of romanseco, inspired by my success with cauliflower last spring. They are now big and leaning over, but I haven’t spotted a significant central bud forming. Will that make them a spring crop if they don’t die over winter? Was I wrong in hoping they’d be ready during winter?

    • October 26, 2012 9:33 am

      Dana S, I’ve only had success with Romanesco by transplanting in mid-June for a fall crop, but what the heck, see what happens, I’ve learned many things about gardening by just being patient. Hard to do, but sometimes it really pays off.

  3. October 26, 2012 9:05 am

    Kale Roll? Your sauerkraut soup from last post sounded pretty awesome too. I’ve never heard of that either.

    I didn’t grow up in a greens eating family, and all greens become a hard sell pretty quick here. Mixing them with boiled potatoes (colcannon), making beet greens pie and slipping them into soup seems to work best here, but even that is short lived.

    “it’s a long way from a seed to a Reuben sandwich” – Amen to that, lol. Though at the same time, it flies by faster and faster…

    • October 26, 2012 9:41 am

      AMF, kale is pretty easy to use in place of cabbage rolls 😉 I love me a good cabbage roll, but the kale leaves are so no-muss, no-fuss compared to dealing with the cabbage head. I grew up hating greens because they were boiled to death and then splashed with vinegar to make them palatable. 😦 Vowing to not subject my kid to that, I went the quick saute with garlic and balsamic splash, and now it’s hard to keep that kid in greens! I couldn’t afford to buy them at the rate we go through them. Another way to sneak them in is to use blanched greens in lasagna instead of pasta, white lasagna is good and the greens are delicious and really add some color and flavor, just think of them as a vehicle for cheese 😉 And don’t forget the bonus for the gardener – kale in all its glory is a beautiful plant, almost too pretty to eat!

      Are you implying we are getting old? :p

  4. October 26, 2012 10:59 am

    What are you talking about? Winter harvest is so simple in the book. And my garden beds will look just like the ones in the pictures, right? Spring works well. Lots of energy, not many bugs. Peas and broccoli do their thing. Summer garden is a constant battle against weeds and drought and weeds in spite of drought. And bugs. Fall garden can be good or bad. Winter garden looks promising but it’s awful nice to sit with my feet by the fire under a blanket, book and dog. Maybe with my head on a pillow. and my eyes closed.

    • October 26, 2012 11:26 am

      Oh yeah, the pictures! Spring is hard here because it is sooo cool, and wet. By the time I get done building fence and a fire, I don’t have much steam left to winter garden…harvesting & eating suits me just fine.

  5. October 26, 2012 11:45 am

    Winter gardening!!!!! Well we have about 10 inches of snow here over the day in my garden. The snow was nearly up to the top of my rubber boots in places -okay I have little legs but still that is an awful lot of snow for October!

    • October 26, 2012 1:16 pm

      Joanna, I’ll have to say you can keep the white stuff! Not my favorite thing in my old age – makes the wood and hay piles disappear too fast 😦

  6. October 26, 2012 4:04 pm

    Great post. Gives tons of idea for the newbie winter gardener. As our summers are hot and falls tend to be very mild in the south over winter type gardening is little used… but now maybe on the rise. Thanks

  7. October 27, 2012 3:09 am

    Wow! What a beautiful fall garden.

  8. October 27, 2012 1:00 pm

    As far as chicories go I am a big fan of the Radicchios. Especially the Castelfranco variety, I wait for it to head up a bit before eating, almost zero bitterness during the winter months. I also grew 2 hybrid red Radicchios from Johnnys. They are starting to be ready for harvest right now but I haven’t eaten them yet because they actually sold out this week at market which was a big surprise. I like them dressed in a Caeserish dressing.

    • October 27, 2012 1:49 pm

      I love Castelfranco, but no one else here does 😦 Sound like the market is doing well!

      • October 29, 2012 12:29 pm

        The market has been pretty good this year. We’ve actually had better sales once the crowd dies down; a lot of window shoppers during the summer, and the locavore folks around here have their own gardens during the summer. This time of year the local folks’ gardens are done and so they’re buying more, and there are less vendors too. At least that is my guess. People are tickled when they can buy local head lettuce and salad this time of year, “You guys still have lettuce?!”

  9. bdmccall permalink
    October 31, 2012 9:50 am

    Hi! I note you have the sides of your hoop house open. We just got a hoop house and I wondered if you have roll-up sides or drop-down sides or if you just remove the wiggle wire and plastic on the sides seasonally? Thanks! Birgit

    • October 31, 2012 11:55 am

      Birgit, we have the roll-up sides and the way we put this together is the to have the side plastic independent of the cover, because we take the cover off for the winter. So when we take the cover off, the roll-up sides remain year round.

      Congrats on the new hoophouse!

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