This guide to winter gardening comes courtesy of Daron Joffe, a.k.a. Farmer D of Farmer D Organics. The company develops and sells environmentally conscious farm and garden products, empowering people to grow their own food.
It’s just about time for snow in many parts of the country, and that has gardeners wondering how to keep the goodness going through the winter. Just as there is no one right way to prepare a potato (herbed potato gratin, garlic mashed, and let’s not forget gnocchi!), there is no one right way to winterize your garden. Many home gardeners use a variety of methods to meet their needs.
Here are some options for you to consider, taking into account different crops. In fact, if there is still time to plant where you live, you may want to choose your plants according to how you plan on winterizing your garden.
Leave it alone. This is less a strategy and more a consequence of what happens when holiday preparations start accelerating and gardens get forgotten. If you planted crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beets, garlic and carrots, you may just want to add some chopped dried leaves or some wheat straw for a little extra warmth. There’s no need to do anything else, as these crops will stay hardy — the cold will even make them taste sweeter (although you’ll have to wait until spring to harvest).
Put a lid on it. Cold frames are basically raised bed gardens with hinged window tops, and they act like mini-greenhouses. They are perfect for growing greens such as lettuces and spinach, as those crops don’t grow too tall. Put a cold frame on top of your sunniest bed, as close to your kitchen as possible, so that you can open the lid and snip some fresh salad greens for your elegant dinner parties. Wait until you see guests’ eyes grow wide when they see all those happy, healthy greens under the snow!
See the light. Farmers often construct something called “high tunnels” to keep fall crops growing through winter, and you can do a modified version of this at home by creating “low tunnels.” Basically, you bend thin-walled, 1/2″ thick PVC pipe over a raised garden bed or a row in your garden and then insert it onto 12″ rebar that is hammered into the ground as anchors on each end. Place a series of these a few feet apart to form a row and drape row cover over them (a light, gauzy fabric that adds a little warmth and protects from wind while still allowing enough sun, air, and water to penetrate). You secure the row cover with bricks, rocks or pieces of lumber so that it doesn’t blow away.
Lettuces, Asian greens, kale, spinach and other leafy delicacies will produce all winter under this hideaway (though you may have to double or triple the row cover, depending on your climate). To take it to the next level, consider growing all four seasons with a greenhouse.
When in doubt, mulch. Cover your garden beds with either a brown mulch such as dried, crushed fall leaves, or a living mulch like cover crops. Both of these directions will nourish and improve your soil for the seasons ahead.
If you choose edible cover crops such as turnips, Austrian winter peas, and the leafy green rape, you reap two benefits: improving your garden and growing food. Do a bit of research about which cover crops are recommended for winter in your local climate, and find out if there is still time to plant them. Get ready to dig in to a bountiful season!