Whether some of us like to admit it or not, we do tend to relax into the idea that winter renders gardening off limits. Now on some level, we may know there’s still something we could be doing, but did you know how much you’re missing out on?
Continuing your green-fingered magic over fall and winter, through those first winter frosts, will replenish your barren vegetable larder with lots of produce. Fruits, berries, sweet corn, beans, potatoes, summer and winter squashes, beetroots, parsnips, chard, peas, radishes, lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, turnips, celery, peppers, pumpkins and watermelons will all be there for the picking.
Photo by Adobe Stock/Koirill
The point is, gardening in winter and fall does require a different way of doing things. By not doing it, you are depriving yourself of an abundant harvest to take you into spring. Here are some tips to get you started on your year-long hobby.
You really can have a beautiful, healthful garden with flavorful fruits and vegetables during October, November and even December. You many have thought those first fall frosts are insurmountable. Not true!
What the more adventurous among us have discovered is that frost is beneficial. When the temperature dips down to 32 degrees, insects are nowhere to be seen, leaving your winter garden to flourish unburdened by certain pests. Also, the ripe produce you’ve already grown will essentially be refrigerated out there for a far longer time before you decide to harvest.
This is a major relief for some, as many of us can be seen scurrying around the garden picking off all the tomatoes before the dreaded first frosts, only to realize a few weeks later that they all rotted on our shelves before we could get to them. So, leave the tomatoes where they belong — on the vines.
To ensure your vegetables and fruits are in prime condition to manage to the frosts, you might want to plant your winter garden in mid to late summer. This way, your plants will be robust, healthful and resilient as the first frost approaches. Even sowing seeds after early frost can see radishes, turnips, lettuces and other greens flourish.
There will be some aesthetic damage from the frost, but this will mostly be confined to the upper foliage of your fruits and vegetable bushes, trees and leaves. Your harvest will not be affected by this superficial frosting. However, there are some tricks to the knack of producing such a luscious collection in these colder months:
• Choose to grow tomatoes that sprawl as opposed to staking the rising and tall ones
• Grow your cucumbers on the ground, not on trellises
• Go for bush peas and beans, not climbing options
• Encourage a protective ecosystem to develop by planting a closely packed garden
• Stop pulling weeds from your veggie patch to allow further shelter from the leaves
• Plant your more vulnerable crops on the south side of your house — the property should fend off damaging northern winds
• Schedule sprinklers to come on at night to aid your plants through frosty temperatures
• At the worst of temperatures, cover your plants with boxes, newspapers or straw
Occasionally, we do have harsh and damaging winter weather. If the frost is relentless and protection hasn’t sufficed, then it’s OK to start harvesting everything. Green tomatoes should be wrapped in newspapers by themselves, one at a time. Stack them in boxes and keep in a cool room to reduce moisture and allow them to ripen naturally.
Radishes can be steamed and frozen to use in stews, and so can turnips. Carrots, on the other hand, should be left in the ground and covered with the thickest mulch you can get your hands on. The roots won’t freeze, and you’ll be looking at the sweetest carrots going mid-winter.
Gardening all year-round is like a new lease of life. The results are as impressive and rewarding — if not more so — than your spring and summer harvests.
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