Grow Vegetables and Fruits For An Overwintered Garden

Grow Vegetables and Fruits For An Overwintered Garden

We've already written about using a cold frame to lengthen the growth season. Given the length of the New England growing season, a season extender will let you to maintain a slightly warmer soil and air temperature surrounding your plants, enabling you to continue growing through November and begin planting earlier in the spring — in March or even late February!

However, did you know that you can continue to grow even in the winter? Your garden won't produce much in December, January, or February, but these are the best months to overwinter crops for a harvest in the early spring. Cool-weather crops are best planted in the early to mid-fall, allowed to develop a root system in October and November, then allowed to dormancy during the chilly and dark winter months before emerging in the spring. You may harvest before your neighbors are even starting to sow their first crops by establishing cold frames and overwintering crops!

Slower and distinct

Along with more obscure hardy winter greens like claytonia, mache, and sorrel, you can overwinter crops like beets, carrots, kale, spinach, and scallions. A sweet salad green called Claytonia, also referred to as "miner's lettuce," is one of the first overwintering crops to appear in the spring. Even with minimal water and in the cold, it can survive.

Taking care of a winter garden is different than taking care of a summer garden. Weed and insect pressures are either nonexistent or much diminished as a result of the low temperature and sunshine levels. Less evaporation of water is also a result of these same factors. You won't need to water frequently because the moisture in the ground will stay there.

However, these circumstances might also result in mold or mildew problems. Keep an eye out for fungal symptoms.

Depending on planting time and plant type, the vegetables in an overwintering garden (let's say from October through March) will mature at various stages and at various dates. Consider cabbages, leeks, and root vegetables as being in a "root cellar," such as carrots, storage radishes, rutabagas, turnips, etc.

They have finished growing and have been holding for months while they wait to be harvested.

Pick lettuce, cutting greens, kale, salad radishes, and scallions as soon as they are large enough to be harvested. However, they can also continue to develop (although slowly as a result of the waning sunshine) and be harvested over time.

When cold weather strikes, if the same crops have just been planted or moved and are still immature, they will sustain themselves and start to grow again after the new year. They will supply you with these crops for your late-winter harvests.

You should be aware that it's ideal to harvest any winter-started crops by the end of February for two reasons:

The longer days and warmer temperatures of the next spring will encourage many crops, including spinach and lettuce as well as carrots and leeks, to go to seed or bolt. The plants will soon lose their ability to be eaten, even if they bravely endured the winter in outstanding health. Harvest them before they turn before they do.

It's time to prepare the land they were using for the following crops—the lettuce, radishes, and scallions that would be sown in late winter or early spring.

Providing Defense

The wintertime climate varies from year to year. You may or may not need to protect your crops.

It might not even be necessary at all during mild years. Other times, exceptionally cold weather could require you to offer cover. Not to worry. Simple protection will suffice.

With root crops, it may only entail a small amount of extra dirt being dragged over their shoulders (depending on how long they are to stay in the ground). Alternately, you might arrange straw bales in a straight line on either side of your leek row, with a few free pieces on top for cover. For further details on arrangements that provide protection from the cold, see "Hot Beds & Cold Frames," below.

Additionally, depending on the species, different plants may withstand cold temperatures to varying degrees. For instance, cabbage and Brussels sprouts can safely stand out in the first snowfall. However, lettuce and salad radishes will always benefit from some protection.

It's also true that your crops can survive colder temperatures the healthier they are and the more carbohydrates and sugars they create during their growth. Plant antifreeze: sugars So make sure the soil is fertile to help them survive.

Also keep in mind that some crops, including spinach, leeks, and scallions, can be harvested frozen. They retain their quality and are still quite useful after thawing. Mâche, kale, and other lettuce varieties can also freeze through and thaw out in the open, appearing to be adequately unharmed and able to continue growing.

Numerous crops with a knack for surviving cold temperatures have already been mentioned. So let's examine some of the top contenders for the overwintering garden in more detail.

Christmastime favourite: Brussels sprouts

Don't overlook the cold's sweetening influence on Brussels sprouts. Before at least a couple of frosts, do not harvest any sprouts. If you want sprouts into January, you might prefer to "see red" even though Igor is a green type that can endure stronger freezes.

The several red sprout types With relatively minimal protection, Rubine and Redarling, in particular, can keep sprout quality for months. It takes brussels sprouts a long time to mature. So that they will be fully mature as winter approaches, start them early (in late spring or early summer).

Try the distinctive, cold-tolerant, and trademarked Kalettes for a slightly different harvest. Where their sprouts should be, they produce tiny florets instead!

Cabbage: Generous and Trustworthy

Savoys are the best cabbages for overwintering because of their crinkly, tasty, and nutritious leaves, but green and red varieties also do well (but require protection).

Choose between January King, Deadon, or Winterfurst for a savoy. Good ecological options are Dottenfelder Storage, European Storage, and Storage No. 4. The preferred reds are Mammoth Red Rock and Ruby Perfection.

Chinese Cabbage: A Unique Slight Variation

A delightful and unexpected addition to a winter dinner is Chinese cabbage.

All types are not made equal and are not truly built for cold climates. Try Suzuko first, though. Heads are still viable through December with protection.

"Carrots": Finding Gold

For a longer crop, sow carrots in succession from late July to mid-August. They should ideally be grown within a building (cold frame or greenhouse) that is covered in straw or a row cover.

This is more to facilitate harvesting than it is to properly protect the crop. You'll understand the wisdom after you attempt to dig a carrot out of freezing ground. Pick amongst the Snow Man (white-fleshed), Yellowstone (yellow), Naval, Napoli, and Merida variants (orange).

Love Those Leaves, Kale, Lettuce, Spinach!

Whether they were planted for late autumn/early winter harvesting or planted after the turn of the year for late winter and early spring, a wide variety of plants' leaves are well suited to winter output.

Give these kinds a spot if you prefer chicory, endive, escarole, radicchio, or arugula.

Mâche and claytonia are two other greens that are very important for winter gardeners and that you won't want to overlook. Although they don't survive the coldest weather, these winter annuals nonetheless grow incredibly well.

The three most common greens—kale, lettuce, and spinach—require particular variety selection and multiple layers of protection. The sensitive and mild Siberian varieties are possibly the hardesty for frost-sweetened kale. Due to its size, Improved Dwarf Siberian works very well.

But among the numerous kale kinds, there are a lot of unique variants. These include the wavy Winterbor and Vates, as well as the ruffled-flat Beedy's Camden and Judy's Kale (all of which are extremely tough).

Leaf lettuces do best when planted densely and harvested while they are young. (Favorite songs include Tango and Red Tinged Winter.) However, further choices for fans of headed lettuce include:

  • Romaines: Winter Density, Winter Wonderland and (red) Rouge d’Hiver
  • Butterheads: Winter Marvel and North Pole
  • Jack Ice (crisphead) 

Gildenstern, a crisphead/mini-iceberg that makes no claims of effectively overwintering, fared exceptionally well and produced tasty mini-heads in March, I've also discovered. The best winter-resistant spinach types include Space, Tyee, Giant Winter, and Winter Bloomsdale.

Leeks: Some of the best overwintering leeks are Blau Gruener Winter, Bleu de Solaize, Ifra, and Siegfried Frost.

These should be started early in the spring, roughly at the same time as your leeks for the summer. They grow more slowly and have excellent field holding capacity, delaying the harvest until late October. They are delicious and nutritious additions to winter meals.

Surprise! Pea Shoots

With this choice, you'll be doing both yourself and your cause a great benefit. Austrian Winter peas are generally grown by gardeners as a cover crop that fixes nitrogen. But they also have a sweet, pea-like green flavor.

These plants, which are particularly cold-resistant, are a nice addition to a salad or prepared dish like a stir-fry.

Where winters are harsh, seeds are typically sown in early spring; however, to produce a protected food crop in these regions, seeds must be planted in late summer. Once the shoots are 6 to 8 inches tall, you can start collecting them.

Winter pea shoots may easily withstand temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but at lower levels, they need protection from frost blankets, cold frames, and/or protective mulch, depending on the weather.

You have a number of possibilities for this fantastic crop once the springtime temperature reaches 40 degrees and above. You can either plant it as a standard cover crop or let it grow its little pink blossoms as a decorative accent and/or an early supply of nectar for bees. Either trellised or spreading growth is possible.

Salad Turnips & Radishes: A Roots Riot

Small, sensitive variations of turnips and radishes can overwinter in addition to storage varieties. Hakurei and Zuercher turnips are wonderful harvested as minis, which are quite little, tops and everything. If allowed to reach storage size, zuercher will also keep its quality.

When properly covered, the typical salad radish will produce a crop, but the watermelon/red-meat varieties are more winter-resistant. When harvested at 2 12-inch diameters, these radishes, which are sometimes categorized as storage radishes, are soft and sweet for fresh eating.

Try Chinese Red Meat, Starburst, or Beauty Heart; they're all quite lovely!

Scallions: Bringing life to Allium
Some scallions are impatient, but others will wait until they are ready to be harvested.

The White Spear Bunching and Evergreen Hardy White varieties, which excel at this, can be ripe in two months and hold for four—quite a harvest window.

Broccoli Sprouting: A Real Treat
Make your broccoli purple and sprouting if you want it to last through the winter and the first few weeks of spring. Pink and Bonarda Sprouting can endure temperatures as low as 20 degrees without protection.

(Purple Sprouting is even hardier and can endure the teens.)

During the colder months, you'll need to offer protection. But the effort is worthwhile since in March and April they start to grow and produce again.

Increased output is similar to expanding your vegetable garden to cover more months of the year. How will you use the additional room?

Additional Details

Cold Frames & Hot Beds
Different types of crops need protection from the cold (and the wind). The methods for doing this range from straightforward to intricate. Systems can have multiple layers of defense, and some can even produce heat on their own.

You could make use of the following to protect crops.

  • Old blankets or bed sheets to cover, held up with stakes. Old windows to cover, letting in light to heat the space on bright days and held up with bales. Straw or (chopped) leaf mulch to cover, with or without bales as sides (i.e., a simply constructed cold frame)
  • Low tunnel made of hoops and plastic sheeting that has a row cover and may or may not have frost blankets
  • Low tunnel, cold frame, or hot bed inside a greenhouse. Cold frame made of wood. Unheated greenhouse. Hot bed. A growth frame warmed by heat generated from decaying organic matter, such as animal bedding/manure, leaves, and forest debris. Wool, seaweed, and cotton clothes.
  • Note: It is important to keep an eye out for overheating in any system that produces heat from sunlight or decomposition as well as to ensure that the temperature is kept at a comfortable level.
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