If you’re anything like us, you probably want to eat a fresh and flavorful diet throughout as much of the year as possible! Unfortunately, above a certain latitude, the time comes each winter when finding fresh, local produce becomes a laughable endeavor. Before we accept our fates, and spend 4 months of the year eating snap peas and bell peppers that traveled halfway across the world, let’s dig into this gastronomic issue with a gardener’s perspective...
While growing your own heirloom tomatoes in February has yet to become a commonplace practice (see my notes on an exception below), there is a genuine bounty of vegetables that can be grown in the winter months. Many of these hardy crops actually prefer the cold and need several months of chilling to grow into their best form in the following spring. So you remember all of those grocery-budget-slashing, fresh out of the soil, DELICIOUSLY DELECTABLE foods that you grow and eat all summer? Well, you can do that in winter. All you have to do is open up space in your heart for all of the unique winter-loving crops that can step up to the plate (pun absolutely intended) when your summer fruits and veggies take a downturn.
Now in order to do this whole “winter vegetable garden” business, we need to go over timelines.
There’s really only one weird part about winter gardening; you have to start your plants in the middle of summer. Wait, that sounds ridiculous right? Though it seems like jumping the gun, getting seedlings started in July and August is the only way you’ll be able to get strong plants established by the time the daylight starts to wane. As with spring and summer crops, there are desirable planting windows for late fall and overwintering vegetables that you should aim for.
Let’s take a look at some of what you can grow, with some growing tips from the Pacific Northwest:
So you have ALL of these great options, but I have to give one big caveat. All of the dates listed above are tried & true for us, but only in the Pacific Northwest. So if you’re gardening in warmer or colder places, you may need to adjust forward or add in some seasonal extension tricks to help you pull off a year-round garden. Continue reading to check out some of the ways you can expand your season in cooler regions.
Season Extension Tips & Tricks
Winter gardening can be done in many regions without much in the way of season extension hardware (protective fabric, plastic, heating), but if you’re located in a colder spot, or if you want to experiment with some crops that are a little more cold sensitive, you might want to try out some of these ideas:
Protective fabric/Row cover
This approach is the plant equivalent of a down comforter, and is the most straightforward way to keep plants warm.
Try out some of these ideas: https://www.epicgardening.com/greenhouse-plans/
Heating with lights
Heat lamps are a great way to keep things warm and growing, but if you’re in a pinch you can try getting creative with incandescent string lights.
Heating with water
There are lots of approaches in this category: heat mats that have warm water running through them, using hot water as radiant heat, insulating greenhouse sides with snow, etc.
Heat lamps, heaters, bringing plants indoors (if potted)...if it can warm you up, then it’ll probably work for your little green friends. Watch out if you’re using any gas or liquid fuels for heating, you can burn your plants with the offgas if there isn’t enough fresh air circulating.
Wait! Before you go…
You all have to check out this amazing example of year round food production in challenging environments: The Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. I interviewed the founder, Jerome Osentowski, in 2016 as part of my college thesis, and found him to be an extremely unique and creative individual with tons of knowledge regarding food forests and permaculture. And though I haven’t seen it yet with my own eyes, rumors have spread about organic papayas being grown high up in the Rocky Mountains at this oasis…WHICH IS AMAZING.
Link to the website:
Link to Instagram: