Knowing the correct winter crop planting dates for your area will ensure you have a great harvest from your year-round garden!
The Persephone Months
The Greek goddess Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Demeter. Hades fell in love with her and in true Greek God form, he kidnapped her, took her to the underworld and forced her to marry him. Demeter begged Zeus to intervene and save her daughter which he did. Unfortunately, I guess there’s a rule about getting out of the underworld (keep this one in mind so you don’t make the same mistake), if you eat anything while you are there then you can’t get out.
Persephone must have gotten a little peckish and had a snack and doomed herself. Zeus was able to make a deal with Hades, Persephone was able to leave the underworld for 9 months of the year but had to return to her husband for 3 months. During the time Persephone is in the underworld, Demeter sorrows. As the Goddess of the harvest and growth, while she sorrows nothing on the earth grows.
This, according to the ancient Greeks is why we have winter.
Winter Gardening is really just winter harvesting
Everything you are eating in December, January and February is really grown from August to October and just put in cold storage in your cold frame or hoop house. Most crops require 10 hours or more of sunlight to show any real growth. For many of us in the higher latitudes, the 10 hour days go away right around the 5th of November and don’t return until early February. During those months nothing except Mache and Claytonia do any growing. Elliot Coleman refers to this time as the Persephone months.
In order to be able to have crops to harvest in the winter, you must get them well underway in the fall. In our zone 5b garden the targeted planting date for most winter crops is August 1st. There is some wiggle room on this date, we have planted as late as August 15th and still been fine but that is when most gardeners should start planting winter crops. I have found Mache and claytonia to be the exceptions to this. I usually don’t get those seeds in the ground until September and they still do well. But lettuce, spinach, carrots, and other winter greens need to get started the first part of August.
Finding your winter crop planting dates
August 1st is my planting date, what about your garden?? I have found that for most areas you should start planting your fall crops around 8 weeks before your first frost. You can go as close as 6 weeks. So use that as your target date. Find your average first frost and then count back 8 weeks, that is your planting date for many fall and winter crops.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Some of my beds aren’t ready for new seeds by my winter crop planting dates, most of my summer crops are still maturing. I deal with this by starting seeds indoors under my growing lights around that same August 1st time frame. With some care, these plants are in really good shape by early September and I can then set them out in their winter beds. Not everyone has the set up to start seeds indoors, so your only other choice is to look at a local nursery for your starts. Good luck, I’ve only found starts one time in the last 4 years so that is why I decided to make the move to an indoor seed starter. (learn more about starting your own seedlings by taking my Seed Starting Simplified course)
Here are the winter crop planting dates I try to keep every year. If you live in a warmer climate you can adjust these dates, if your climate is colder you better get going sooner. Johnny Seeds has a great planting date calculator that you can use as well:
- Broccoli- Start seedlings indoors 12 weeks before your first frost
- Cabbage – Start seedlings indoors 12 weeks before your first frost
- Kohlrabi – Start seedlings indoors 12 weeks before your first frost
- Lettuce – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
- Spinach – 3 to 8 weeks before your first frost
- Swiss Chard – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
- Carrots – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
- Kale – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
- Other greens – 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost
- Mache & Claytonia – 2 to 4 weeks before your first frost
If you hit these winter crop planting dates, you should have a great crop ready to start eating in November.
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