It’s summer. While the sun might be sporadic in many places, it’s time to plant your winter garden. Winter garden? Yes, that’s right. Planting a winter garden is a summer time activity, however hot it might be right now. Plants need time and heat to grow, and the heat of summer is the best time to plant a winter garden.
Why plant a winter garden? First of all, because you can. If you love food gardening and you don’t want to stop, you really don’t have to stop. In temperate climates, it’s possible to garden easily all year round by using cloches and cold frames. A cloche is a simple little tent for your vegetables. You can make one out of a glass bottle, an old milk jug, a plastic food container or any other sort of clear plastic or glass material that will be durable in the garden.
Winter gardening is possible even in challenging climates. Yes, there may be a lot of snow in the winter. Do not let this deter you, oh fearless gardener. If you have a deck or a somewhat enclosed area, these are perfect for warmer winter gardening and provide some cover for your plants. If you don’t have a deck, choose an accessible area close to the house and use devices to help your plants survive through the snowy season.
Cold frames are the next step up from cloches. These little shanties for your plants might consist of a window that is propped by a board. The window makes a little greenhouse for a few plants at a time, and the prop lets air and some water in to visit your plants. If you have the means, by all means construct a small greenhouse for your plants. One made out of reused plastic will do. The plants don’t care much about the decor, they just like the heat.
The plants in a winter garden are not going to be the squash and tomatoes of the summer. Plants that only thrive in the heat do not like the winter. However, there are a whole host of greens that just adore cooler weather, and with a little coddling they can be quite content through the cold season. The key is to get them up and growing in the summer and fall so that they are larger and tough when the winter comes. Great winter plants include kale, Swiss chard, Good King Henry, collard greens, beets, parsnips, leeks, and many hardy winter lettuce varieties. Winter gardening calls for some experimental cooking as well, since we’ve forgotten how to cook with many of these delicious winter vegetables.
You can also plant peas and spinach in the summer and aim for a fall crop, as long as you provide them with a bit of shade in the heat of the summer. Row covers can help extend the season of some fall crops because they raise the temperature in the garden bed. Reuse the fabric year after year if you can to conserve resources.
While winter gardening might seem like a practice that is only for hard core gardeners, it is growing in popularity. Try it this year as an experiment. Like any other garden, the winter garden takes a few years of experimentation before you find your groove as a winter gardener.