As the summer growing season slows and leaves begin to turn, it’s nice to start thinking about all of the vegetables and greens that you can keep eating fresh all through the winter. Here are some tips to prepare your last minute winter vegetable garden!
While the first days of fall might feel like the right time to plan out the next season of your veggie garden, the ideal time to begin preparing for picturesque winter foods is in back in July.
But fear not! Even if your plants haven’t been in the ground since mid-summer, there are still a few things you can do to enjoy your garden’s bounty throughout the cold winter months–and even get a jump start on spring planting.
The most important information to identify before planning out your winter vegetable garden is the growing zone and first frost date of your local climate. This will help you determine the types of plants which will survive in your garden as well as the time by which they need to be established if they are going to be able to grow and thrive all winter.
Types of Plants to Grow
Though many types of greens (such as kale, chard and spinach) and root vegetables (carrots, and beets) grow well and are harvestable all winter, some take longer to establish and may not be ready by first frost. If you’re short on time, however, here are some choices that establish quickly and get growing fast.
- Mustard greens reach maturity in 30 days and are a hearty and healthy vegetable used in cuisines all over the world.
- Radishes mature in 30 days as well and can added a much needed bite to brighten up a winter salad.
- Arugula is cold weather ready when it reaches 4 inches (10 mm) tall, but can’t take extreme cold so should be reserved for more temperate climates.
- Chives grow fast and handle cold well while performing well in your wintertime comfort food dishes.
See something growing that you don’t recognize? Identify it!
Once you’ve chosen the proper plants for your winter vegetable garden, you’ll want to put them in soil that drains well and is protected from wind. Repurposing garden beds that were used for summer crops is an excellent way to know the soil is ready to have vegetables planted and will drain well enough to keep the roots from rotting or freezing out. As plants don’t grow as fast or as vigorously in the fall and winter as they do in spring and summer, your winter garden won’t need nearly as much water–stick your finger in the ground and if it is dry up to your second knuckle it’s time to water again. Luckily, the use of fertilizer is unnecessary!
How to Extend Your Growing Season
If there’s not enough time to establish some vegetables you really want to eat, or your home climate is too cold for others, there are some simple measures you can take to extend your home growing season.
Placing your planting beds up against the side of your house, fence, or stone wall is an easy and practical way to to harness the ambient heat coming from your house or the sun and redirecting it to your garden. Beyond that a simple covered tunnel, called a cloche, can be constructed using pvc piping or wire hoops for the base structure and a material such as clear plastic or heavy duty frost cloth.
A cloche creates a protected space for your plants which keep the wind from freezing them out and captures heat from the winter sun. If a structured cloche is still too much engineering for you, no worries! Cloches for individual plants can be made from materials as simple as plastic soda bottles.
Spring Garden Bonus
While you’re out in the yard making last minute preparations for your winter veggie garden, it’s the perfect time to get a head start on a spring harvest. Garlic, onions and shallots planted in the fall ready to take off as soon as spring comes, while broad beans such as fava beans and aquadulce beans serve as excellent cover crop and are ready to harvest in early spring.
So have no fear! It’s (almost) never too late to start your last-minute winter vegetable garden so you can enjoy fresh harvests as we wait out the cold and look toward spring.