I have come to love this time of year. The seasons are starting to change here in Northern Utah, and I am eagerly starting to plant various lettuce, spinach, herb, and vegetable starts from seed. Melons, beets, carrots, leeks, bok choi, cabbage, broccoli, kale, parsley, cilantro, dill, lettuce, and other plants are going in this season. I am looking forward to what this gardening adventure has to bring this year.
Did I mention it is August?
Before you start thinking I missed the boat by about five or six months, I should explain that I am starting my winter garden. I plan on being able to make a delicious, freshly picked veggie salad in the middle of the snowy, sub-zero weather in January! All without using a greenhouse.
Don’t believe me?
This is what my winter garden looked like on the night of December 22nd, 2013:
Looks amazing, right?!
Well ok, you can’t really see the lovely garden in all of its glory until you lift up the cold frames. Those square shaped lumps covered in snow are cold frames, and it is what makes growing all sorts of wonderful things in the snow possible, even when they are completely covered with snow. The plants can actually receive enough light when the cold frame is covered in deep snow and ice, and the chilly covering actually acts as an insulator. Who would have guessed?
Here is a look at some of the plants underneath the cold frames that chilly December night
Last year was my first attempt at winter gardening, and it was surprisingly successful, cheap, and very low maintenance (everything a garden should be, in my humble opinion). The plants did well, some even survived in the snow outside of the cold frames, albeit with slower growth. Garden pests were nonexistent, there were no weeds, and I only had to water about once a month. Life was grand.
Here are specifics instructions on how to grow your winter garden in a lovely four-seasons location:
1. Prepare your pre-measured beds. For this I garden in sections that are measured to fit under the cold frames that I am going to use. Make sure to select an area that gets a lot of sun, the more the better. Go ahead and clear any weeds, loosen the soil, and add compost or other soil amendments.
2. Select and start your plants. The best time to start these plants is in late July or very early August, so many of them can get a head start before the cold weather slows their growth. If you start them later, do not worry. I actually did last year. You may just have an early spring crop instead of a winter one. For my winter garden I focus on plants that will tolerate cold weather. Most beet, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprout, kale, chard, turnip, rutabaga, and spinach varieties will do just fine. Lettuce greens and herbs are a little more finicky—make sure you choose a type that does well in cool weather. I used a Rocky Top Lettuce Salad Mix last year that did very well. Parsley survived, most of the cilantro did not (though it was in a shadier location, I am giving it another try this year). Sadly, basil won’t tolerate the cold.
3. Cold Frames. A great, cheap cold frame consists of two-by-four studs nailed into a rectangle with a polycarbonate plastic lid (greenhouse material). It does not even need to be airtight. Some people use old glass doors or windows propped above the plants by mounds of soil on the sides. However if glass breaks in your garden, it never decomposes so keep that in mind. For taller plants you can build the soil up or stack the frames, but keep them as low as possible to retain heat.
4. When the cold weather and snow comes, cover the plants, water about every three weeks on a warmer winter day, and enjoy!
Growing your own food can be a very economical and easy way to feed yourself and your family healthy, nutritious food. All of the information I have learned about winter gardening has been from this amazing and easy to read book by Caleb Warnock.