Just because the days are getting shorter and temperatures are getting lower doesn’t mean you have to close down your garden. Even if you live in a climate with hard frosts and heavy snowfall, cool season gardening is a viable option, at least for a while. Keep reading to learn about cool weather crops and growing food through the cold season.
Winter Season Vegetables
Cool weather crops are, as a rule, leafy greens and roots. Vegetables that produce fruit, like tomatoes and squash, need lots of warmth and sunlight and are not really suited to cool season gardening.
Leaves such as spinach, arugula, chard, parsley, and Asian greens thrive in cooler temperatures and can often handle at least light frost. Lettuce is a little less cold hardy, but it tastes the best when grown in cool weather. Kale handles the cold extremely well and can survive temperatures far below freezing. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli are all also good cool weather crops. Roots such as carrots, turnips, parsnips, and beets can survive freezing temperatures and actually vastly improve in taste when the plant concentrates more energy on root growth and builds up sugars for frost protection.
Cool Season Gardening Tips
Although many winter season vegetables can survive cold temperatures, cool season gardening is more effective if you take a few steps to keep the plants warm. Simply putting down mulch or a floating row cover can raise the soil temperature by a few degrees. Building a cold frame over your cool weather crops is even more effective.
You can stretch transparent plastic over a structure of PVC pipe or, more easily, lay hay bales around the perimeter of your winter season vegetables and lay an old window across the top. Your biggest risk if you do this is actually building up too much heat. Open your cold frame up on sunny days to allow some cooler airflow. A more expensive, but often worthwhile option, is the purchase of a greenhouse. Even in cold climates, you should be able to grow cool season crops all winter long. If none of these appeal to you, consider growing vegetables indoors. Herbs are always handy in the kitchen, and small things like salad greens and radishes can be grown in window boxes.
By Nancy Buley, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., Wholesale Tree Growers
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
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