Planting Winter Vegetables

The secret to growing winter vegetables is picking varieties that thrive in the cold winter months.

These vegetables will bolt and go to seed in warmer climates and develop strong flavors. When grown in the cooler season they are mild and sweet.

These vegetables grow well in the cooler months with protection of row covers and unheated hoop houses.

In the colder northern parts of the country two layers of protection will make these vegetable possible to enjoy well into December and through to spring.

Choosing Winter Vegetables

Kale is very hardy and can be over wintered in northern climates. Start plants in July to get good growth before the winter. Plant 16 inches apart in wide rows. Kale can be harvested all winter. Pick the larger leaves from the bottom of the plant. Leave small leaves on top to keep the plant growing.

    Hardy varieties; 60 days to maturity.

    Winterbor, grows 2-3 fee tall, dark curly leaves, regrows well for successive harvests.

    Champion, this is a vates variety that is more compact and longer standing. Smooth wavy tender leaves.

Cabbage can be planted year round. Early varieties mature in 60 65 days in the spring. Plant 16 inches apart in wide rows. Red cabbage stores well and has a robust flavor. Savory cabbage is the most flavorful and can be eaten raw or cooked. Cool weather gives cabbage a nice mild sweet flavor. Cabbage stores well in the cellar making this a year round vegetable.

    Varieties; Famosa, good savory flavor. Matures in 75 days.

    Deadon, Red savory with green interior leaves. Color intensifies in cold weather. 105 days to maturity.

Chard can be direct sown or transplanted. For winter vegetable harvests sow seeds in July and transplant to garden in August for a dependable harvest from October to May. Space 4 inches apart for salad greens. Pick leafs from sides when they reach 3 to 4 inches. For full size plants space 10 inches apart in wide rows.

    Hardy variety; Argentata Swiss Chard 60 day to maturity.

Carrots are the ultimate winter vegetables to grow through out the winter months. My winter carrots are one of the vegetables that seem to grow even in below freezing temperatures in my hoop house. Sow in lat summer to get good growth before winter sets in. sow in rows 6 inches apart and thin to 1-2 inches when top growth gets to 1-2 inches.

    Hardy varieties; Bolero, good growth and easy to wash. Stores well, 75 days to maturity.

    Napoli, Crisp and milder flavor than Bolero. 55 days to maturity.

Spinach is another winter vegetables favorite. Spinach can be sown starting in September through April for a nice long harvest. Cut leaves when small from outsides of plant for adding to salads. Spinach will grows through several cuttings.

    Varieties; Tyee Slow to bolt and grow well in greenhouses. Matures in 40 days.

Salad Greens come as mixed seeds of various winter tolerant greens. These are harvested when leaves are young. They are sold commercially as baby greens. You can buy salad mixes locally or at your favorite seed company. Sow in fall and harvest in about 21 days.

The seed varieties I have listed can be found at Johnnyseed.com. Try different varieties and find ones that work in your climate.

Planting Winter Vegetables

When to plant your vegetables can be trial and error. I planted my vegetables Sept 28. As of this writing the spinach, carrots and lettuce have grown well. The chard, kale, and parsnips are in suspended animation with not much growth since temperatures dropped below freezing. I have two rows inside an unheated hoop house with row covers over each row.

The winter vegetables grow slower as the temperatures drop taking twice as long. I hope to start harvesting the lettuce, carrots and spinach in January. The kale, parsnips and chard should start growing in February for a spring harvest.

Staring the plants in July and August will give them the head start before the cool temperatures set in.

Start to cover your rows when the first frosts start. Cover with your second covering by the end of November. We had a couple of light snow storms before we completed the hoop house covering and our vegetables were fine.

We choose to make our hoop house tall so I could walk inside during the winter. You can make the covers just cover the rows. You need to weight down the sides to keep the covering from blowing off.

This makes getting to the vegetables a little cumbersome in the snow but it costs less. It is a good way to start. If you have a raised bed or square foot garden it is easy to construct a hoop covering over the bed.

The winter vegetables will need a good watering before the cold weather sets in. Ours got an inch of snow one day. It was enough to water the ground.

Inside the coverings the temperatures can get up to 60-70 degrees F on a warm sunny day so you’ll want to keep an eye on the ground moisture. Condensation of moisture inside the hoop covering usually keeps the plants moist through out the months of November thru January.

I needed to water a small section of row on the back end of the hoop house in December but the rest of the rows are getting enough water from the condensation.

Harvesting Winter Vegetables

Your vegetables are ready to harvest when leaves are fully developed and the plants can take some cutting without harming future growth. Harvest leaves from outside leaving inside leave to continue growing. Carrots can be harvested when the reach ½ to ¾ inch in diameter.

Wait till the plants have warmed and unfroze to harvest, usually mid afternoon. Use a spade to loosen soils to dig root crops. Cover the rows back when you finish any harvesting and maintenance. The row covers freeze and can tear so be careful and the covers will last a couple of years.

Gardening vegetables in the winter can have its challenges, but it is well worth the effort. Each year you’ll learn new things and get a better idea of what vegetable will grow in your climate.


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