According to some experts, the term winter garden is a misnomer. Winter garden plants mature and are ready to eat when the winter months come around. They’re able to tolerate chilly rains and big temperature drops. With the right timing and care, you can cultivate your own winter vegetable garden that will provide delicious produce during cold winter months.
Planting should begin mid to late summer or early fall, but if you’re late to the party, you can build a cold frame that covers your crops, protecting them against seasonal winds and frost damage while they bask in the sun to grow, and reuse the frames for seed propagation in spring and summer. Frames can be made from various materials like wood, cement block, fiberglass and more so long as they include a transparent face. They’re also hot beds available that heat your plants from underneath by electric or steam-heated elements. A more natural alternative is fresh manure; it absorbs and retains the heat from the sun for a long time.
For the best garden, first, you must figure out what you want to plant, how much time the plants need to grow, and how much space is available. If any of your summer plants have wilted, you should remove them now to make room for new plants.
Create the right amount of space for your winter garden by diagramming your existing plot(s) on graph paper. Savvygardener.com provides further schematics and ideas on this subject. Make sure you note which current plants are at or near ready for harvest, how much space they occupy and where you plan to plant the winter’s harvest. Keeping this level of organization will pay off as you move from season to season and harvest to harvest.
Some plants like beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower take 90 days to mature. Others like leeks, turnips, collards and perennial herbs take 60 days to mature. Chives, bunching onions, broccoli and spinach need only 30 days to mature. For a more complete list of ideas, visit Suburbanhomesteading.com.
Another website, Seedsnow.com lets you know the lowest temperatures that your crops can withstand. For example, carrots can withstand temps as low as 15°F while cauliflower can tolerate as low as 10°F. Kale and parsnips can live in zero-degree weather. Green onions can live through sleet and snow. But celery can only survive light frosts. For more extensive research, Garden.org offers information about The USDA Hardiness Zone Map which divides “North America into 11 separate planting zones.” Each growing zone is 10°F warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the adjacent zone so make sure the crops you want are appropriate for your zone.
Visit a local garden center to learn more as there may be changes in weather patterns that may impact your yield. It’s never too late to start planting.