Wouldn’t it be great if you could eat fresh salad out of your garden all year round? You can, with a less effort and smaller budget than you might think. For years people have tested and used various winter growing techniques using large and small greenhouses, cold frames and cold boxes. This year, I plan to give it a try.
If you’re thinking a greenhouse or winter growing cold frame is out of your budget range you might want to take a closer look at your options. You can build a small greenhouse that will shelter your winter crops for less money than you might think. Cold frames can be put together with only a few materials and in some cases can be entirely free requiring only the effort necessary to put them together and implement their use.
There are a number of food plants that are hardy enough to grow and bear fruit during the colder winter months. Greens like spinach, kale, lettuce and chives grow well enough. Bulb or tuber plants like garlic and onions, radishes turnips and potatoes can do surprisingly well during the winter.
There are more options that you might think for winter vegetable growing that will supplement your food supply through the winter. Winter growing can take you one step further in gaining control of your family’s food supply.
Winter Garden Plant Options
Garlic: Put your garlic out (separated but not peeled) four inches apart without watering them. Garlic doesn’t take up that much room and needs little attention. Wait until you see small shoots growing before you water them or just wait for the rain to do it.
Onions: Onions need good soil and plenty of water to do well any time of the year. Plant onions in well amended (fertile) soil from seed or you can use onion sets which many people find easier. The harvest time for onion sets is about 6 weeks where onions from seed can take nearly twice as long. The best time to plant onions is January or February. You can harvest the tops after only a few weeks.
Radishes: There are many types of radish that will do well during the winter. Most of the grow to maturity in or near thirty days. They can easily become a plentiful source of winter garden food.
Lettuce: Lettuce is similar to onions in the sense that it does best in rich, fertile soil and needs plenty of water to thrive. Some lettuce variety’s do better in cooler weather. Leaf lettuce variety’s will do well during the winter and with short harvest times will go a long way towards maintaining a stable food supply. Best to plant during January or February.
Peas: Snap peas, snow peas and poke shelling are all good variety’s of peas to grow during the winter. The best time to plant peas is November and February and they can be grown all year round. Plant pea seeds and inch or two in fertile soil and give them something to climb on and they will soon be producing tender little pods. The birds really like peas too, so take precautions and cover them with something that will keep them out but let the sunshine and rain in.
Potatoes: Potatoes are a great supplement to many family meals. They can be grown during the winter with the best time to plant being in February. Potatoes will be ready to harvest around three months after planting. Potatoes are usually grown from tubers or pieces that have grown eyes (small beginning roots). Consider growing your potatoes in a large pot or in a stack of two old tires. Using old tires is a good recycling idea, also the black tires will draw and radiate heat from the sun, helping to keep the soil warm for your growing tasty tubers.
Greens: Spinach, kale, swiss chard and bok choy are some of the green variety’s that can be grown during the winter. Most green variety’s prefer cooler weather and will go to seed quickly in warmer weather. These greens can be used in soups, salads and can be a refreshing source of free food during the winter.
Now that we have a list of great garden veggies to plant, we need to consider where we will put them. Mini greenhouses or cold box’s are probably the most effective and inexpensive options and there are more than a few ways to put them together.
Cold Box: Cold boxes can be made of a wood frame, placed on the ground and filled with fertile soil for growing your plants. It needs to be deep enough to provide enough room for the plants root system and well as give it plenty of room to grow without choking it out. Cold boxes are made with a glass top so when the sun beams in, your plants are rewarded with heat and light that is amplified by the glass roof of the cold box and trapped inside. A simple cold box could be made of a sod earthen wall frame or stacked bales of straw, or even a hole in the ground with an old window that will neatly cover the top.
Hoop Houses: Hoop houses are a great and inexpensive way to build a mini greenhouse to help shelter your crops during the winter. They can be easily made with an existing raised bed grow area or you can put together a raised bed or grow box to use for your hoop house (mini greenhouse cold frame). They are generally made by bending pieces of 1/2″ pvp pipe to make the frame over your raised growing beds.
Walipini: Bigger versions of cold boxes can be made using earth or sandbags for insulation or even digging an in ground growing area and covering it with greenhouse panels or plastic to make an earthen insulated winter greenhouse. A Walipini is a greenhouse that is built in a hole with a plastic or plastic paneled roof. A Walipini is suitable for year round growing and can be built fairly cheaply.
Many garden variety greens and head type plants, Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and head lettuce, will do well in winter cold boxes, mini greenhouses, walipini’s or hot houses. Leafy greens like kale, mustard, spinach and leaf lettuce variety’s will do well. Tubers like potatoes and turnips, beets and radishes all can be grown during the winter along with the bulb edibles like onions and garlic. You could grow a small a small organic spice garden in your kitchen windowsill or make plans for a bigger harvest. The sky really is the limit.
Winter growing is not only possible, it can be fairly inexpensive to get started. You can benefit from growing edible food in the wintertime with little out of pocket, and ensure healthy meals that are free from corporate additives for you and your family. With a little time, hard work and investment you can get control of your food supply. Take another great step to ensuring your family’s survival and well being and plan a winter garden.