Winter Gardening Tips for Growing Vegetables
If you think that wintertime is the signal for a snooze for your vegetable garden, you might surprise yourself when you learn that the gentle climates to be found in much of the country are ideal for a few edibles. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much space, and the rewards are well worth it. If you have a little room in your usual garden, not to mention a little willingness to try a few new tricks, you can have beauty and food in your garden year round.
As any gardener knows, there’s much more to planting than just dropping some seeds or seedlings in the ground and hoping for the best. It takes planning and some know how. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Pick a manageable area. A common mistake made by many new gardeners, as well as a few old-timers, is to start with an area that is too big to manage. Ambition is great, but pick an area that is small and more manageable to start. A 3 x 3 plot is a good starting point. A lot of people bury a piece of cardboard below the surface of the soil to keep weeds at a minimum. It will bio-degrade in a few months.
- Use planter mix. Bark mulch, compost, and planter mix is a good combination that adds nutrients to your soil. Also add a slow release fertilizer, or opt for an organic alternative.
- Watch freezing. One of the benefits of choosing plants that do well in winter is that if it freezes, which is a common occurrence, your plants should do well. If you get worried that it’s likely to get too cold, you can drape some burlap over your plants to keep the frost off of them. Another good idea is to lay Christmas lights on the ground. This will provide just enough warmth to keep your plants alive.
There are a number of edibles that grow very well during wintertime. These include leeks, onions, radishes, peas, lettuce, potatoes, chard, spinach, rhubarb, and other leafy greens such as bok choy and kale. Planting any of these and chances are good that you will have a plentiful harvest throughout the winter. What follows are a few tips to get you there.
Leeks. You can buy them in any nursery as starts, and they are both inexpensive and plentiful. As long as there’s a mild winter, you will have harvests throughout winter and spring.
Onions. With a little extra care onions do very well in the winter. You need to be attentive to their needs, however. For example, onions love regular waterings. You can grow onions from seeds, but it’s usually easier to grow them from bulbs in the nursery or from an online source.
Onions love a rich soil, but don’t put them in soil that is too sandy or full of clay. Grocery store variety onions are difficult to grow, so it’s best to choose green onions and/or scallions, and plant them in January and February. They’ll be ready when they’re about six weeks old.
Radishes. If you like store-bought radishes, you’re going to be in for a real treat when it comes to some of the varieties of gourmet treats that are available online. These include White Icicle, French Breakfast, and Pink Beauties.
Easter Eggs are a special treat that you can grow in your garden, and they’ll make you think that you have been eating red rocks when you compare them with the store-bought varieties. Easter Eggs are also available in varieties of purple, pinks and white. The best news is that radishes are easy to grow and are ready quickly. Some small root varieties are ready in one month or less after seeds have been planted.
Peas. Peas not only favor winter gardening, they love it. November or February are usually the best months to plant most peas. Snap peas should be planted an inch deep in rich soil with something to climb on as they grow. You might want to cover your pea shoots up since birds consider them a delicacy, but make sure that they still get plenty of sun and water.
Lettuce. Lettuce is like onions in that it appreciates lots of rich soil and regular waterings. Some varieties like the warmer months, but all lettuce likes the winter to one extent or another. There are many varieties of lettuce available, including readleaf and heirloom. Mesclun is a mix of several varieties–argula, chervil, chicory and cress–and grows beautifully in the areas of the country where winter is cool but not cold. Seeds should be sown in January and February, or check with your local nursery to get starts.
Potatoes. Plant potatoes in February, just like you would peas. This way you will get a nice harvest after about three months. Potatoes are fun for everybody to grow, adults as well as kids. Depending on the variety of potatoes that you choose to grow, most grow from pieces of tubers.
Swiss Chard and other greens. If you are looking for a way to brighten up your winter garden, try planting swiss chard. With a smattering of swiss chard, you will have a sort of exclamation point for your garden with stalks of yellow, bright pink, and red. Swiss chard is also an easy plant to grow, whether you decide to start with seeds or starts. Swiss chard also grows all year long.
Other greens such as spinach, kale, and bok choy, and also easy to grow. Use them in salads, cooked in stir-fries, or toss them into soups and other hot dishes for a special treat. Most of these leafy greens like cool temperatures and go to seed in warmer weather. Plant them in rich soil, make sure they are cool, and you will be well rewarded when it comes time to prepare your salads throughout the year.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. You only live once, so you might be well rewarded if you try your luck with something new.