January 2012

Hone Your Winter Gardening Skills

Winter doesn’t have to mean the end of your gardening pleasure; with a little planning and a bit of effort, you can keep your yard and home filled with nature’s bounty, even during winter months. This winter, you can have your kale and eat it, too.
Planting times vary from region to region, but if the ground isn’t frozen, it’s not too late to get some seeds or plants in the soil. Though winter gardens are typically planted sometime in the fall for harvesting in December, there are plenty of leafy greens, roots and tubers that can withstand the cold with a bit of assistance from covers and hoop houses. Walla Walla onions can reportedly withstand temperatures as low as -10 degrees F (although they need some time to grow and store up energy before facing such extreme cold). Cabbages can go even lower, and carrots and beets can withstand temperatures that drop below freezing. If you use mulch and other insulating ground covers, you can keep these veggies healthy, even in low temperatures.
Kale isn’t just a miracle veggie for its nutrient-packing punch – it’s also one of the hardiest plants for your patch. Able to live through temperatures at least as low as 8 degrees F without any protection, you might even be able to get away with planting this leafy green right now if you live in a somewhat warmer area of the country. Late fall is still the recommended sowing season, but you’re likely to still have a harvest if you get these in the ground a week or two before the frost.
For colder climates or to grow produce more sensitive to the cold, building an outdoor hoop house or even an indoor vegetable terrarium can be advantageous. Using some inexpensive PVC tubing and plastic sheeting, you can turn your vegetable bed into a mini greenhouse; with a little more effort, you can add active heating sources like grow lamps and warm water irrigation without too much difficulty. If you don’t mind bringing the outdoors inside, you can simply fill an old aquarium or any large and deep container with proper soil, provide supplemental light and warmth as necessary and plant pretty much any veggie you could want.
Seed catalogs and your local university or county extension service are good resources for information about what ornamentals and edibles are suitable for winter growing in your part of the country. Not only will you be able to enjoy the fruits of winter’s labor, but the experience will leave you that much more prepared for next fall’s planting and winter harvesting.