Growing Vegetables in the Fall and Winter

While the typical growing season for vegetables is from spring through late summer or early fall, in some cases for some vegetables, this growing season can be well extended. A winter vegetable garden for most growing zones isn’t about planting crops in the winter, but it is about harvesting them in the winter. Here are some things gardeners do so that they can continue enjoying fresh vegetables into the winter, or at least through the first frosts of fall.

Cloche: Pronounced Klōsh, this is the French name for a woman’s close fitting hat with its rounded crown. In gardening, a cloche is an arched covering that protects a plant. These portable, mini-greenhouses keep plants relatively warm and protect them from harsh, winter elements. You can make one with some half-inch PVC pipe and plastic. The PVC is arched over a small garden patch and then covered with clear plastic. These “tent” greenhouses need to be opened on sunny days to allow for cooling. Secure the covering, and don’t allow the plastic to touch the plants or the cold will transfer to them.

Raise the Beds: If you use old tires to build your raised beds, the black tires will absorb the sun’s heat, heating up the garden. Clothes can be used to protect against the frost. Raised beds also increase drainage.

Harvest Leaf by Leaf: When you harvest leafy vegetables such as lettuce, chard, spinach and kale, pick only as many leaves as you need for that day. If the daytime temperatures don’t drop below 10 to 15 degrees above freezing, these plants will continue producing new leaves at their centers. You may be able to extend the season all the way into early spring, especially if you cloche or cold frame.

Mulch: This will keep the ground from freezing as quickly. The mulch should be put down when the temperatures have dropped close to freezing.

Root vegetables, such as carrots, beets and radishes, tend to do well after summer harvest is past. Kale and some of the other hardy plants actually taste better after a little frost.

Some vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, endive, and escarole can be planted in the fall, depending on your growing zone. If you feed your plants, go easy on the nitrogen because this can make leaves soft and more vulnerable to frost. Romaine is a good type of lettuce for winter.

The variety of Swiss chard called “Bright Lights” will add great beauty to your winter, vegetable garden. This variety displays orange, yellow, pink, cream, gold, purple, and red stalks, many in hues seen nowhere else in the vegetable kingdom and that create a stunning effect in the morning or afternoon light.

By extending your vegetable’s growing season you can enjoy the taste and nutritious value of homegrown, vegetables as well as the beauty of a garden that much longer.

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