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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to see a picture of your winter gardens and would be willing to feature them on our site.