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The Best Crops For Continual Winter Harvests

A mistake that many gardeners make is allowing their vegetable patch to remain bare once the summer growing season and fall harvest have been wrapped up. In actuality, there are several great ideas for keeping your garden working hard to produce food for you all year, even when there is snow on the ground! With a thorough understanding of the zone that you live in and an understanding of the growing requirements of a select number of crops, you’ll soon find yourself with a growing space that works just as hard as you do.

Overwintering For An Early Spring Harvest

There are many root and bulb vegetables that will happily overwinter in your soil through the winter months. They will then be amongst the first to pop through once the soil starts to warm up and the temperatures start to become more agreeable.

Garlic is just one great choice for overwintering. Many a gardener claims that there is nothing sweeter tasting than garlic that has been allowed to spend a few chilly months in the soil before popping up in the spring. Just be careful—if you plant the garlic too early, you may actually find them springing to life before winter has even set in. The majority of garden centers and organic nurseries tend to get their cool weather supplies in the door around October, which should ensure that you are long past the warm days that might encourage sprouting.

Onions are another great overwintering choice. Plant your onion sets around the same time that you get your garlic in, ensuring that you are long past the balmy days that will encourage overzealous growth. The soil for onions and garlic alike should be loosely tilled with lots of fresh organic matter. A fresh layer of compost on top of them should help to keep them from drying out and also provide the nourishment that growing vegetables need.

If you have recently tilled up all of your potatoes and your sweet potatoes, then you may want to consider perhaps leaving one or two of them in the ground so that you’ll have a good jump-start on your spuds next year. It isn’t too late to get them in now, however, if you’ve already pulled them all out. Simply look for a few good spuds from your stores and place them into well-worked soil so that they can spend the winter in the ground. They will definitely be among the first to pop up in the new warmer seasons and could even provide you with a wealth of fingerling potatoes for Easter dinner!

Some other vegetable plants that will overwinter well include the following:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Leeks
  • Turnips

Those who live in more moderate climates often find that if they start a new patch of peas at the end of the summer season, they will having plants that grow fairly well until the first frost and then go into a type of dormancy until the temperatures warm up. The peas will then start to produce blossoms that bees will simply love because they are amongst the first blooming plants. This will also translate into early bushels of peas being harvested from your garden, sometimes as early as February! Just take care not to plant the seeds too late in the season or not only will they not sprout but they will likely rot in the ground.

Growing And Harvesting Through The Winter

There are numerous plants that thrive in the cooler temperatures and can provide you with a steady stream of fresh vegetables and herbs throughout even the chilliest parts of the year. This will, of course, depend greatly on the zone that you are living in. For those who live very far north, it might prove more of a challenge to grow some vegetables when there are several feet of snow on the ground for a good five months out of the year. However, all is not lost if you invest in cold frames or a greenhouse. Cold frames and greenhouses have been providing gardeners with the ability to extend their growing season and also get a jump on their spring growing season, so there is no reason why you can’t use them to help you keep a good harvest going throughout the winter months. Growing a good number of your crops in raised beds will also help to keep the roots of the plants a few degrees warmer when the temperatures start to plummet.

Despite the fact that cool and crisp salads are typically most enjoyed during the hottest parts of the year, the majority of lettuces prefer to grow in cooler temperatures. The Crawford lettuce is one that will grow well during the warmer months if you are looking for a nice summer lettuce, but the rest are generally much happier when the temperatures stay low. Sow a few types of lettuce and enjoy fresh lettuce with your sandwiches, salads, burgers, and lettuce wraps!

Like lettuce, spinach prefers the cooler seasons to do the bulk of its growing. The added bonus to spinach over lettuce, however, is that it can be blanched and frozen so that you have good reserves of it when you need to add spinach to a meal. The spinach you grow through the winter months should grow well into early spring, but it will likely bolt once the temperatures start to inch up.

Cabbage can be a bit tricky for those who live in the South, simply because temperatures don’t get cold enough for cabbage to form decent-sized heads on them. If you live in cooler climates, you should be able to get nice heads on your cabbage for a good portion of fall, winter, and early spring. Cabbage can also be blanched and frozen, enjoyed fresh in salads, or fermented for a nice batch of homemade sauerkraut.

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Broccoli is an exceptionally healthy vegetable to grow in your garden. It simply thrives in cooler weather, so you would be best served starting it at the end of the summer season; this could provide you with a nice harvest in time for Thanksgiving. Once the primary floret has been cut off, broccoli will continue to produce side-shoots until the temperatures warm up enough for the florets to burst into bright yellow flowers. A lot of gardeners tend to leave a few in the early spring so that the bright yellow flowers can attract bees to the garden.

Cauliflower, like cabbage, can be challenging to get to form a decent sized head on it. But with a bit of care, and ensuring that you are planting the cauliflower when the temperatures are cool enough, you’ll soon find yourself with a number of great heads of cauliflower. Both broccoli and cauliflower can be blanched and frozen for enjoyment throughout the year.

Children the world over might hate Brussels sprouts, but they are almost guaranteed to love them when they are freshly picked from your own garden. Homegrown Brussels sprouts tend to be a lot sweeter than store-bought varieties and are, of course, loaded with copious amounts of essential vitamins.

Knowing When And What To Plant

The essential key to getting a successful winter harvest is to know the approximate date of the first frost for your area. This will allow you a good idea as to when you need to get your crops planted so that they can grow to a respectable size before the first killing frost moves in. If you don’t already know the approximate frost dates, then your local garden extension can likely provide you with these details.

Because the maturity times for crops can vary dramatically, it is important to be aware of how long your plants will need to grow before the truly cold weather moves in.

Thirty-day crops include the following:

  • Radishes
  • Broccoli
  • Leaf lettuces
  • Bok Choy
  • Spinach
  • Mustard
  • Chives
  • Bunching onions

Sixty-day crops include the following:

  • Some types of carrots
  • Leeks
  • Cabbages
  • Cauliflower
  • Turnip
  • Collards
  • Swiss chard

Ninety-day crops include the following:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Large globe onions
  • Parsnips
  • Cauliflower
  • Rutabaga
  • Brussels sprouts

It is very important that you avoid planting the same winter vegetables in the same location as you planted them last year or during the summer growing season. This is due to the fact that these types of plants tend to heavily drain the soil of the nutrients that they need in order to thrive. Good crop rotation will ensure the replenishing of nutrients to your soil and also help to stave off any diseases that last season’s crops were exposed to.

If some portions of your property are going to be uncultivated during the winter months, you can still built up the soil by growing what is known as cover crops. These are plants that are rapid growing and can be tilled into the soil at the start of the spring growing season. This will add lush organic matter to the soil, which then composts into rich humus. Rye, wheat, fava beans, and crimson and white clover are just some examples of cover crops you could consider.

Be sure to keep good records of what you planted, where you planted it, and any other pertinent details to the growth of the plants. This can help you to see where you went wrong with plants that struggle to make it and most importantly can help you to have a good record of which methods yielded the best results.

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