Aug 272010

Imagine eating fresh vegetables from your garden all winter long. You don’t have to live in Florida or southern California to harvest fresh vegetables in January. Many people famous for their cold-weather gardens live in the northern parts of the U.S.

In most parts of the U.S. and in many countries, there is sufficient daylight to harvest vegetables year round. The key is the word “harvest”. Vegetables grow slowly during the short days of autumn. Even the hardiest vegetables stop growing during the weeks surrounding the winter solstice. But while new growth isn’t possible during those weeks, harvesting fresh vegetables is. If you plant vegetables so that they will be ready to pick by the shortest winter days and protect them from freezing, you can eat fresh vegetables from your garden even during the coldest days.

There are three steps to fall and winter gardening success.

Choose the right vegetables for winter gardening.

Unless you live where the winter is warm, you need to plant the right vegetables, ones that will thrive- or at least survive-in freezing temperatures. Think carrots, broccoli, leeks and salad greens, not tomatoes, corn and squash.

Plant on time

Next plant your vegetables at the correct time to make sure they will be ready to harvest during the winter.  Since the days grow shorter as winter approaches, plants grow more slowly than they do in the spring.  Look on the seed packages to see the time each plant takes from seed to harvest in the spring. Then add extra time.  How much extra time will be specific to your area.  When starting out, plant your seeds over several weeks. Then keep track of how long each planting took to grow. Write it down in your garden journal or in a file on your computer. Next year you can use that information to know when to plant.

Protect your plants

Finally protect your homegrown bounty from the wind and freezing temperatures.  You can use row covers, cold frames, mini-greenhouses, solar cones,  plastic tunnels and hoop houses.  Eliot Coleman combines both row covers and an unheated greenhouse to keep his plants safe from the cold Maine winters.

Winter gardens are easier to tend than summer one. You don’t have to water much. Insect problems are reduced. Since your garden is under cover, you don’t have to worry about deer,  rabbits and raccoons beating you to the harvest. And you have the fun of eating lovely fresh-from-your-garden vegetables in the middle of winter.

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