Nature’s wisdom is to make available to us the foods our bodies most need for each season. We’re grateful to be able to enjoy winter gardening even without a greenhouse.
It’s not only wonderful to grow year round but the winter garden plants and fruits are some of the most nutrient rich foods you can eat.
Winter Gardening is Possible
Last February we were in short sleeves in North Carolina, Zone 7A! Oh sure, we’ve had some winter cold and snow earlier on, but these mid-winter warm spells can instill false hopes and trigger buds to break and even trees to flower.
As of this writing in early January, 2020, we’ve enjoyed a mild winter. We know that’s not the case for everyone reading this.
If you’re in warmer southern zones such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, “winter” is your time to enjoy gardening again after the searing, wilting heat of summer. If you’re north with harsh winters and many feet of snow, cold frames
Winter Gardening in Cold Zones
Speaking of relatively harsh cold, at the end of last January I spent a long weekend in Edmonton Canada. The high temp was -16 and lows down to -25, not including 20 MPH wind chills! Talk about taking one’s breath away!
Brrrr! That’s Zone 2A territory with a short growing season averaging 120 days. You folks in those zones have to be a hardy breed!
The day after returning home, our local high temp hit 72 degrees! We took off the covers and let our winter crops bask in the warm sunshine.
But you can still grow hardy winter garden plants under cold frames and row covers. For your snowbirds we recommend Eliot Coleman’s excellent book: The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
Changes in latitude, changes in gratitude!
Gratitude is Always a Good Thing
Gratitude is one of our family values, and I was grateful to be back in a warmer climate, walking the garden and checking cold frames. But also, reflecting on how fortunate we all are that winter gardening is possible, even for our northern friends.
Growers Become Makers in Winter
In addition to podcasting, they’ve also authored and published goals journals and art journals that are now available on Amazon. The latest addition to the iCreateDaily Journal collection is a Gratitude Journal, so please check them out!
We know many of you enjoy crafting, writing, and making things when you can’t be out in the garden. Gardeners tend to be productive people and busy bees whenever possible. Makers gonna make, right?!
When gardener’s can’t garden, they create things!
Meanwhile, back to winter garden plants.
So, how’s the garden faring in the midst of these extremes? These are doing really well… just wish I’d planted more!
Winter Garden Plants
Listed alphabetically, here’s a list of the winter garden plants we’re growing this year.
- Bok Choy
- Cabbage, Kalibos
- Chard – Swiss Chard
- Mache – Corn Salad
- Microgreens (indoors)
The winter garden has been more like a spring garden. Alternating days of sun and rain and 60+ degree daytime temps have made our cool crops like the Bok Choy flush with new vitality.
Our cole crops, arugula, and Swiss chard appear to be holding their own and then some. The broccoli is heading up nicely, and the collards are looking sassy.
Now I wish I’d planted more earlier and more a bit later. That way we would have more to harvest throughout the winter.
Oh well. In gardening, as in life, we learn something new each season, and keep on growing and improving. #SeasonsOfLife!
The benefits of cold-weather winter gardening include very few pests and minimal weeding or watering.
Winter Gardening with Row Covers
We use the gauzy (thinner) covers as the colder temps begin. Once the lows begin to drop below freezing, we change over to heavier frost cloth covers, sometimes referred to as frost blankets. More protection comes with a price though.
Be aware: thicker row covers mean reduced light penetration.
Here’s a handy chart from the AgFabric folks that can help you determine the level of protection and how it affects light transmission. .
Row Cover Frames
For support of the fabrics we use a variety of row cover frames:
- Jute twine strung between posts – tent style
- Hoops – store bought or homemade
- PVC pipe
- Stout fencing wire
The simplest row cover frame is a doubled length of jute twine stretched between two posts. The cover drapes over like a tent and the edges are pinned with landscape fabric “staples”.
It’s fairly easy to adjust the height over a single row, and easy to unpin one side to uncover for warmer days, cultivation, or harvest. It’s not so good with snow cover or taller plants, and the twine does stretch, so you’ll want to tie it in a slip knot so as to easily tighten it as needed.
The next method uses hoops, either store bought or home made designs made of pvc pipe, bamboo, or stout fencing wire. The best way we found to attach fabric to the wire is using document binder clips from the office.
Our stoutest supports are made from concrete reinforcement wire and cattle panels. The latter can also be shaped into stand-up cold frames and covered in poly.
It’s best if you can design covers so they can be handily removed for the occasional warm sunny day, to tend your crops, and for easier harvesting. Of course, climates and wind velocities can vary widely so having ample anchorage to keep the fabric pinned down is also important.
Extend Your Growing Season
The use of row covers and support frames not only protects winter garden plants, but can get your spring garden going much earlier. An extended growing season means extended harvests, and in some zones—even some of the wintery ones—that can mean year round growing!
Winter Landscape Plants
One bright spot in our winter landscape is this wonderful Arnold’s Promise witch hazel tree.
The frilly, lightly scented blossoms are a “promise” of a new season of life bursting forth. Meanwhile, we shall enjoy the weather with its ebbs and flows.
For 30 years, our Arnold’s Promise witch hazel tree has bloomed every February like clockwork.
Let us Know
We appreciate sharing our experiences and ideas with our fellow garden enthusiasts, and hearing yours!
If you have anything to share about the topic of winter gardening, you are most welcome to post on our Facebook page or send us a message. We’d be glad to publish your experience and photos on this or other garden related topics.
Let’s keep on growing!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson