Keep the Garden Going through the Cold Months

Now that there’s a chill in the air and the colors of autumn creep through the hills and hollows, most people are ending their gardens for the winter. They’re pulling up spent vegetable plants, cleaning up the perennial beds, and getting the garden ready for a long winter’s nap.

Not so fast. It isn’t time to put the garden to bed just yet. There are still a few things you can sow for fresh flavor from the garden and from indoor containers. Think of this as the last call for the vegetable garden this year.

So if you have some open space in your vegetable garden or are removing spent summer plants and creating room, it is simple to add some of these things to the garden. You can even add them to containers where you grew tomatoes or other summer crops that have gone. Even if you still have those plants in place, you can sow seeds around them now and just prune out the old spent plant when it’s done.

For the outside, it is time to plant some leafy greens for overwintering. The key is to grow the plant to a harvestable size before the weather turns totally cold. Most of these plants will survive even a moderate freeze but won’t grow after the temperature gets down to freezing.

You are basically storing the leafy greens on the plant outdoors. In fact, the flavors of these plants often change to a sweeter flavor in the winter as freezing increases the percentage of sugar in the leaves.

At this late point in the year, probably the best ones for planting are spinach and arugula. Both of these greens are freeze-tolerant and actually thrive in the cold. Both need cold temperatures to germinate from seed and will bolt (bloom) and turn bitter in even slightly warm weather.

Both of these cold-weather champs are also very freeze-tolerant as long as the plants are 3 inches tall or more when freezing starts. In the last few years, I’ve had these and more leafy greens throughout winter until the really hard freezes associated with the arctic vortex.

There are a few more plants you can still add at this point if you plan to use a row cover to protect your garden through the winter. These row cover materials are available at most garden centers and can offer varying degrees of protection in the garden.

White fabric versions of row cover can simply be placed on top of plants and secured at the edges with rocks, weights or pins. This is called a floating row cover.

Both the fabric version and plastic versions can be put on hoops of heavy gauge wire, PVC pipe or bent metal conduit to form a structure called a low tunnel. These structures, especially when used with plastic, can offer protection even for heavy freezes.

If you add something like this to your garden, you could still sow lettuce, kale, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, radishes, mustard and Asian greens to the garden at this late point.

If you would prefer to grow your flavors indoors during the winter, don’t worry. There are a few options for you.

First, if you do have a bright enough window, don’t be afraid to experiment with lettuce, arugula or spinach in pots.

You may be able to keep the plants healthy to get a few crops of tasty leaves through the winter.

If you have those bright windows (or lights), you may want to think about growing some fresh herbs for the winter indoors. While they won’t be as healthy and vigorous as if they were growing outdoors in the summer, you can often harvest enough for at least a boost of fresh flavor or garnish for your dishes.

Several herbs can be grown from seed for indoor winter growth, including basil, oregano and parsley. These relatively easy-to-start herbs are fairly simple to grow in containers. You may also have success starting cutting of plants like rosemary, sage or thyme to bring inside for the winter.

Many gardeners choose to grow these herbs in containers outside through the summer and bring them indoors for the winter. That can be a simple way to ensure you have some fresh herbs for the winter month. So plan ahead next year to make it easier.

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