Over the next week or so I will post some instructional articles on the “how to’s” of winter gardening. Today I thought I would kind of set things up with a post about why we do winter gardening.
Our goal around Stoney Acres is to grow as much food as we can for ourselves. This year is our 15th year with an official garden. Each year our garden has gotten bigger as our skills (and lot size) improved. We had messed around with a little bit of season extension for a few years. Mostly that involved planting lettuce and peas in the early spring and again in the late fall and hoping for the best.
About four years ago I read that you could actually have a garden in the winter time, even in the northern climates. This interested me so I did some more research and found a fantastic book. The book is called Four-Seasons Harvest by Eliot Coleman who is the world foremost guru on winter gardening.
Winter gardening probably isn’t the best term for me to use, winter harvesting is better. You really don’t need to do much actual gardening during the coldest part of the winter. During the winter you really just harvest the plants that you bring to maturity in the late fall.
All you need is some planning and some simple protection to have fresh vegetables all year long. Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I read Four-Season Harvest in the late winter of 2009. That spring we planted our normal garden and started harvesting the first radishes and lettuce about May 1st. By building a few cold frames and hoop houses and applying what I learned in the book we have had something fresh we could eat from our garden every day since. You read that right; we have had some kind of fresh produce available to us from our garden every day now for 39 months!!
So what kinds of vegetables are we talking about? Our winter cold frames have mostly salad greens available. We usually grow at least 2 or 3 types of lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, Mache and our favorite carrots. All these vegetables are cool weather plants and they taste a ton better this time of year. In fact the carrots will be the best you have ever tasted because the cold causes some of the starches to turn to sugars and they are sweet and delicious.
Check back over the next few days as I break down the details of what to plant, when to plant it and what to do to keep it growing when it’s 15 degrees outside.