Looking to extend your harvest with a winter garden this year? In this post I’ll share with you all the answers to help you succeed in your winter garden with ten of the best crops for your winter garden.
WINTER VEGETABLE GARDEN
A winter garden is a vegetable garden that is filled with winter vegetables that can be harvested from October to May. ( From Fall to Spring )
Any vegetable seed or transplant that can be sown after an early spring crop is perfect for a Winter garden.
Here are some of the many benefits of having a winter garden.
- Save money on produce when its priced highest during winter months.
- Keep your garden working and building soil throughout the year.
- Plant foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, collards, kale, mustards spinach, beets, carrots, celeriac, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga. Garlic leeks, onions, shallots, onions, arugula beet greens, chard, corn salad, cress, kale, lettuce, parsley, radicchio and even herbs!
BEST WINTER CROPS FOR YOUR GARDEN
Choose frost-tolerant seeds and vegetable varieties to best extend the harvest season past frost.
Adding protection like mulch on root crops, row cover, or even plastic-covered low tunnels can carry you even further into fall and in some cases, over winter.
Planting seeds for your Winter Garden at the correct time is crucial. In the Winter days are shorter and there is less sunlight. Plants need a day length and temperature to thrive.
When daylight falls below ten hours per day plant growth nearly stops. Therefore your overwintering vegetables need to be 75% mature. And if you want to harvest your vegetables during the winter they need to be 100% mature.
How far you can stretch the harvest season also really depends on your climate and temperatures.
Below I’ll share with you the best winter crops to help you extend your garden season along with the tips to help you succeed.
STARTING YOUR GARDEN BEDS
Before you plant your garden, you need to prepare your garden space.
If you have space to start a garden in the ground, you can start with the back to eden gardening method, which builds on top of existing soil and can be done in a weekend.
If you already have garden beds than it’s best to feed the soil before starting your winter garden.
Soil amendments like fish fertilizer, green compost and a new top layer of mulch is always my go to.
Covering plants with row covers after sowing/transplanting will help exclude pests. You can leave plants in the garden into the winter, as they are hardy to 10°F; frost actually improves the flavor. The plants resemble little palm trees.
Garlic is the easiest overwintering vegetable to grow and it’s also very rewarding. Simply plant the cloves in the fall before the first frost and in the spring you’ll have shoots. Garlic is harvested in the summer. Its a plant and forget it for months on end garden project.
Broccoli is packed with vitamins C and A, potassium, iron, and folic acid. Broccoli grows best in cool conditions, and in many climates, cool conditions are more consistent in fall, making broccoli a more reliable crop for fall harvest.
Cabbage is hearty, versatile, stores well, and it may even be one of the showiest vegetables you ever grow. Head cabbage has round, overlapping leaves that grow loosely like a rose before tightening into a head, while napa cabbage grows in a cylindrical shape of tightly crinkled leaves that reveal a beautiful pattern when cut in half. Because you harvest the entire cabbage at one time, this is a good crop to grow in succession (not all at once) to have a continuous supply.
Celebration Swiss chard is a must for your winter garden. What other plants can you harvest in the winter that are bright colours of summer?
The bright colors of ‘Celebration' are cause for, well, a celebration!
Red, magenta, orange, pink, yellow, and white stems support glossy, dark green leaves.
Cauliflower can be planted for a fall harvest, and an overwinter harvest depending on the variety. It’s a cool season crop and most varieties tolerate a light frost. It’s best when it’s sown in the summer for a fall harvest.
Cover transplants to prevent common pest issues with a row cover.
A staple in the South, collards are a nutritious and versatile vegetable that grows in hot or cold regions easily. Lower, outer leaves can be harvested as needed, and new leaves will continue to grow.
The popular Georgia Southern variety has been enjoyed since the 1800. Try southern collard seeds.
2 to 4 weeks before your average last frost date, when soil temperature is at least 45°F, ideally 60°–85°F, for early summer crop. 6 to 8 weeks before your average first fall frost date for late summer/fall crop. Mild Climates: Sow fall through winter.
Root crops like carrots grow best in loose, rock-free, rich, well-drained soil where the tap root can easily navigate deep into the soil. If your soil is compact, fluff it with a garden fork or consider using a rototiller before sowing seeds.
Unless you are growing short carrots, 18″ or more depth of loose soil is recommended. Add compost or other amendment to the soil at the same time as you loosen it or scratch or rake it in prior to sowing.
Walla Walla onions are your best bet for overwintering onions. This heirloom onion is one of the largest of onions that you can grow.
They sometimes measure up to 5 inches across. This sweet, mild flavoured giant onion is popular to grow and is good for eating raw and cooked.
Make sure to thin seedlings to 4 inches apart to have larger onions. Dig up the onions when the tops have died down and string them together to make onion ropes to hang in a cool dry place.
Parsnips are surprisingly expensive come the middle of winter we discovered a few years back. The kids fell in love with roasted parsnips and I couldn’t believe the amount we were being charged.
Parsnips are much like carrots and can be used anyway that you’d use a carrot.
Make sure to harvest your parsnips after the first frost as the frost helps sweeten up the root vegetables.
Grab Parsnip seeds here for a fraction of the cost of a bag of parsnips come winter time in the grocery store.
How to grow parsnips in this post.
Turnips are similar to radishes, in that they are quick to plant and harvest much like radishes. Turnips are great additions to fall soups and stews and should be planted in every winter garden.
Rutabagas are large hardy root crops similar to turnips but are bigger and often sweeter. They can be diced, steamed and boiled.
I personally like to steam rutabagas and mash them like mashed potatoes and serve with butter and fresh herbs.
Rutabagas are perfect for winter gardens as they can remain in the ground until after the ground freezes.
The frost improves the flavour of a rutabaga.
One way to preserve rutabagas is to store in a cool dry frost free location for several months or peel and cube for freezing.
For a winter garden sow Arugula 6 -8 weeks before your first 10 hour day. Arugula grows best from seed and is a quick harvest green that is only 35-50 days to harvest.
To ensure a steady supply plant every two to three weeks and thin seedlings to 6 inches apart.
NOTE: Arugula may die but it will regrow in the spring.
Harvest your arugula or protect it in temperatures below 25 Degrees F.
The hardiest kale varieties for your winter garden are low, crinkled, savoy types. Look for these varieties and ones that tend not to bolt.
Leafy greens are best to grow in the spring. For a winter garden go ahead and stick with baby lettuce and check the hardiness on the seed package for any head lettuce.
Lettuce does well when grown in a cold frame over winter and can be continually harvested for cut and come again produce all winter long!
Mescluns can be grown for baby greens and used in salads or to full sized plants and used in stir-fry.
Mescluns often come in a blend mix with popular Asian greens such as pac choi, Choy sum, red kale, mustard and more.
Browse over the winter mesclun list of varieties and blends at Botanical Interests.
Spinach is much like lettuce and arugula in your winter garden. The savoy types are hardiest and it might just die and regrow in the spring.
Here are some hardy spinach varieties perfect for a winter garden.
Try growing spinach in a cold frame for best results.
Radishes are quick growing and surprisingly come in a large amount of shapes, sizes and colours. This year I’m trying out the black Spanish round variety, why not try it out too. Grab the seeds here.
Radishes are an early spring crop and can also be grown in a winter garden.
Because radishes are quick to grow, try sowing them in succession planting intervals just up to the last frost date.
The only issue I’ve really had with radishes is once they are done, they bolt. And just when they are ready to harvest or just before hand the insects get in there and start eating away.
Use a row cover to keep insects at bay and keep an eye on growth, you’ll be surprised how fast they are ready to harvest.
TOOLS FOR GROWING WINTER VEGETABLES
When most gardeners think that their vegetable gardens are good and planted for the season, it's time to plant the Winter garden. There are a few problems common amongst winter gardens that can be addressed from the start.
- The main issue is bugs. When starting seedlings, watch out for keeping slugs, earwigs and sowbugs at bay. Purchasing seedlings instead of starting your own seeds is your best bet for skipping this all together.
- Make sure to feed the soil before planting especially if following an early crop. Liquid fish fertilizer is always a good option.
– Row covers are a great way to help plants get established and stay protected.
Protect your Winter Garden
ROW COVERS FOR INSECT PROTECTION (CLOCHE)
HARVESTING FROM YOUR WINTER VEGETABLE GARDEN
When it comes to harvesting your vegetables from your winter garden there are a few things you need to note or remember. Harvesting is often the most exciting part of gardening. It’s reaping what you’ve sown.
Before you start disturbing your plants, harvest only in temperatures that are above freezing. Vegetables that are harvested just after a frost are often sweeter too.
To get the most from your Winter Garden this year make sure to download our Winter Vegetable Garden Checklist!