Winter Gardening Series #9 – Harvesting and wrap up

Now for the final and tastiest post in our winter gardening series. The harvest!!


The number one rule of winter harvesting is don’t harvest when things are frozen.  You will open your cold frame on an early morning in January and think every thing is ruined.  All your crops will be frozen and droopy.  If you harvest them now all you will have is mush.  (The exception to this is Mache, it does fine if you harvest it frozen).  But if you wait a few hours until the sun comes out and things warm up above freezing in the cold frame you’ll be amazed.  Those plants you thought were destroyed will perk right up and be fine and ready to pick.  Be sure you take them right inside.  You don’t want your basket of fresh picked greens to get re-frozen in a cold wind and ruined.

We will usually start eating the cold frame lettuce by mid October.  If you live in Zone 6 or lower most lettuces won’t hold up against the constant freezing of December and January.  You will want to time it so that you have harvested your lettuce by early December.  We have a large super duper air tight plastic container that we use to store our lettuce in.  Lettuce picked in early December when the nights start getting in the low 20’s will usually last us until Christmas.

Carrots can be dug most any time.  It is very rare that the ground in the cold frame actually freezes, so the carrots are easy pickings.  Remember that carrots are the highlight of the winter garden.  They will be the sweetest carrots you have ever eaten.

Other greens, like spinach, chard, claytonia and turnip greens will be there for you all winter.  Remember to leave a few leaves on your spinach and chard plants.  They will start coming back very strong in February and March and will be the first of the spring crops.


When you clear out a spot in your cold frame by harvesting remember to add some compost and replant.  The seeds will just sit in the ground until February or March but will take off for some very early spring crops.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m really a fanatic about winter gardening.  I think it is awesome that I can be eating crops I’ve grown in the middle of the winter.  We have a family of 6 and our 2 hoops and 3 cold frames provide a good amount of food for us in the winter.  It doesn’t provide 100% of our winter needs but it takes a big dent out of the total.  Elliot Coleman says that 2 – 4×8 cold frames per person is what you need to provide all your fresh winter vegetables.  We just don’t have that much space right now but the 5 we have gives us all the carrots we need all winter and a couple of good salads a week.

I think every garden should have at least one cold frame or hoop house.  It’s a fun way to garden and adds another dimension to your growing skills.  Plus the neighbors will be really impressed.


I hope you have enjoyed this series.  Please check back often for updates on how our winter garden is doing.  If you have questions about winter gardening please feel free to leave a comment or email me at  I would love to see a picture of your winter gardens and would be willing to feature them on our site.


  1. Nancy Davis August 14, 2012 1:26 pm Reply

    Hi! I have harvested lettuce from my cold frame late and need to do that this year! Thanks for the encouragement! I live in zone 5 and when the frame gets covered in snow I tend to not go out there! I have planted some carrot seed this year so will see if it grows too! Nancy

  2. August 14, 2012 8:31 pm Reply

    I keep a close eye on your winter gardening posts. We have 3 cold frames that average about 25 square feet, we have 4 members of the family. We’re a little behind the curve, but 2011 was our first year. We’re committed to winter gardening, we love salad! That’s why. We’ll add more in the future for sure! Thanks for pointing out Coleman’s recommendation. It’s a motivator to go big! We do have the perfect spot for at least another 100 square feet.

    Unfortunately, Belle made me promise, “No new projects this year!” The neighbors are tired of looking at our un-kept front yard.

    I have a quick question, what do you use to cover your cold frames. I ask because I used glass last season, it broke. I used plastic last season it couldn’t withstand the high winds. We do get high winds here. Any recommendations about how to cover the frame effectively and efficiently?

    • Rick August 14, 2012 9:44 pm Reply

      Our cold frame lids are wood and plexi glass. I’ll email you with a little advice!!

  3. Patsy August 15, 2012 6:00 am Reply

    This was a really good series with lots of helpful advice! Thank you!

  4. Christie August 31, 2013 7:32 pm Reply

    I am interested in learning about winter gardening (I’m in Utah County) and have found your posts very helpful. Do you have particular varieties of lettuce/carrots/etc that you recommend for the winter?

    • Mr. Stoney August 31, 2013 8:46 pm Reply

      Yes Christie,

      Lettuce: Butter Crunch, Paris Island Cos and Black seeded simpson are all good. We are also going to try Nevada as a winter lettuce.

      Carrots: We like little finger for winter carrots, but I’ve also heard Napoli do well.

      Look at the Johnny’s seed web site for more winter varieties, but then I would try to buy as many as you can from Mountain Valley Seed (they are a local seed company up in Salt Lake)

      Thanks for reading feel free to contact me with more questions at

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