How to Plant a Winter Garden (It’s Time!)

Although the heat of summer is on, it is time to plant your winter garden. Winter gardening is my favorite garden of all, as the cooler nights raise the sweetness of many cole and root crops.  Harvesting carrots out of the snow or having kale all winter long makes me feel like a master gardener and homesteader, providing quality organic food for my family year round.

There are two expected results of winter gardening: crops are grown for fall and winter harvesting or planted to overwinter for an early spring harvest. In addition, many winter gardeners use covering or cloching to extend their seasons well into frosty weather.

What Vegetables Can You Grow in a Winter Garden?

To make my life easier this year, I purchased a winter garden seed collection from Territorial Seed Company to supplement my existing seed stock.  The kit includes the following crops:

1. Broccoli-Fall Broccoli Blend
2. Brussels Sprout-Falstaff
3. Beets-Autumn Harvest Blend
4. Cabbage-January King
5. Collards-Champion
6. Carrot-Merida
7. Kohlrabi-Superschmelz
8. Kale-Improved Dwarf Siberian
9. Lettuce-Arctic Tundra Blend
10. Winter Greens Blend
11. Mustard-Tah Tsai
12. Onion-Winter White Bunching
13. Chinese Cabbage-Tenderheart
14. Pac Choi-Chinese
15. Parsnip-Gladiator
16. Radish-Cherry Belle
17. Spinach-Giant Winter
18. Swiss Chard-Fordhook Giant
19. Turnip-Purple Top White Globe
20. Cauliflower-Amazing

Even though these seeds are not organically grown (the plants will grown as such in my garden), I like Territorial Seeds because they are grown in Oregon. I live in northern California, so our climates are similar. It is always best to select seeds from a similar zone as your own garden.  I can get organic seeds from Seeds of Change, but they are grown in a desert environment.  I don’t worry so much about paying extra for certified organic seeds when I know my soil is such.

How to Prepare a Winter Garden

Some of these seeds are directly sown and some are started in pots to transplant later.  Unlike late Winter/early Spring starts, you don’t need a greenhouse to get your winter crops started.  I have started cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and broccoli in containers, and I have directly sown broccoli as well.  There’s more to be done, but at least I have begun! The winter gardening catalog from Territorial has a great chart for winter planting and transplanting I hang on the refrigerator to stay focused on the winter garden.  Summer gardening can easily distract me from planning ahead.

Another aspect of winter gardening I love is adding plants for Fall or overwintering harvest fills in spaces left after harvesting Spring/early Summer crops like lettuce, spinach, peas, onions, and garlic.

Seeds of Change explains Four Season Growing:

Late Summer and Fall is a great time for gardening. Cooler weather, reduced pest pressure and staggered plantings make for a relaxing experience in the garden. And of course, nothing beats garden-fresh, nutrition-packed food in late fall and winter. By choosing the right crops and planting times, and employing a few simple season-extending techniques, your garden can flourish long after the last tomatoes are canned and pesto frozen. Many Fall-sown crops can also overwinter to provide early Spring food and, along with fall-transplanted perennials, host pollinator and other beneficial insects as they flower in early summer.

I don’t use season extenders, such as Agribon or other floating row covers. They are expensive and and not worth the trouble when there are plenty of crops I can grow without going to this extra trouble. If you live in an extreme climate, season extenders may be required.

Planting a winter garden is a nice break from typical summer garden chores of weeding and harvesting.  Putting seeds in soil and watching sprouts emerge is actually my favorite part of growing food.  No matter the size of your garden, you can put in a few winter garden plants and enjoy fresh food year round.

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