A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Vegetable Gardening
Now that winter is finally upon us, many novice gardeners may be under the impression that it is time to hang up their gardening gear until next spring…
However, the more seasoned gardener knows that this is simply not the case. Although spring and summer are generally regarded as the more fruitful seasons, there are still a number of crops that can thrive throughout the colder months.
There are also many ways to continue to grow other crops indoors or with the use of protective equipment such as cold frames or greenhouses. You can even build your own polytunnel.
Here are some tips for beginner’s on how to continue planting and harvesting throughout winter and why it can be beneficial to you.
The Benefits of Winter Gardening
There several are practical reasons to continue gardening throughout the winter. Although working outdoors might feel tougher going, Mother Nature can actually help you out too; winter brings with it increased rainfall, a reduced number of pests and colder temperatures that allow crops to stay naturally preserved within the soil for longer.
From an environmental point of view it is also beneficial to be self sufficient. We all tend to increase our carbon footprint at this time of year whether it’s by turning on the central heating or relying on pharmaceutical companies (proven to have a negative impact on the environment) in order to clear up our winter ailments. Because so much produce is shipped in from warmer climates at this time of year, there is also a huge environmental strain from imported goods.
Vegetable gardening throughout the winter can also be financially beneficial as many stores tend to hike up their prices in the run up to Christmas and Thanksgiving. At this expensive time of year you will really notice those savings.
There are also many health benefits to winter gardening. As the temperatures dwindle and the nights draw in, we tend to become less active. Studies indicate that this, alongside the gluttony of the festive season, leads to the average American putting on 5lb during the Christmas period alone (WebMD, Avoid Winter Weight Gain). Gardening can be a great way to continue exercising and beat that winter bulge.
It also means that you are producing healthy, nutritious foods that are essential to boosting immune system health during the colder months when we tend to be more susceptible to nasty bugs. And with 10 million Americans allegedly suffering from SAD, being at one with nature can be a great way to relax and keep those feel good endorphins pumping.
What to Plant
Winter temperatures obviously vary from state to state so it is important to research what crops are likely to do well in the climate you’re in and the conditions you have created. Having said that, there are a handful of ‘foolproof’ crops that are ideal for beginners. Lettuce, peas and hardy root vegetables such as leeks, parsnips and squashes generally have a high tolerance for cool temperatures. Onions are slow growing crops and if they are planted in late Autumn you will find that they’ll take care of themselves through the colder months and be ready in time for a Spring harvest.
Research also suggests that carrots and radishes are good crops to plant alongside one another as they can help each other grow.
If you’re still nervous about the prospect of winter gardening and frosty fingers, then why not use a window box or start a small herb garden indoors. This gives you the opportunity to get to grips with the concept of growing and maintaining a crop without so much manual work.
Seedlings for herbs such as oregano, rosemary, basil and chives are relatively cheap and the equipment you’ll need is minimal. Be sure to use specialized potting soil rather than the soil from your yard though – this is rich in minerals and better for indoor use.
During winter crops need protection from the elements. Many people use greenhouses but if you don’t have the space then a cold frame can do a similar job. They can be insulated to protect crops against the cold and will keep root vegetable dry as excess rainfall can lead to them splitting and becoming unusable.
Specialized digging equipment such as forks, trowels and hoes are also important for tackling cold, hard, compacted soil. Thermal gardening gloves are also useful to keep your hands supple in low temperatures.