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Winter Gardening
Old 12-13-2009, 10:26 AM   #1
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Winter Gardening

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While I share samclem's skepticism of these techniques for large scale use, I think there are some positive opportunities here. Rather than the 'broad brush' of 'local is better' (which is not always true), it would be good if someone would identify good (efficient and good tasting/healthy) local substitutes for stuff we default to just out of familiarity. Maybe for some of the season, a certain local green would be better than the year round shipping of something else? Maybe something else in another area? rinse, repeat where appropriate. I don't want to give up salads in winter, but I'm open to substitutes. I don't have to have the same greens/veggies all year round, all the time.
In my area, to my knowledge, no one is doing any winter gardening at least on a commercial basis. So because I have the room and I enjoy it and I wanted a cold frame anyway for seed starting I'm doing it for myself. I'm up in central NY (Zone 4b), but I suspect that warmer climates might have some growers experimenting with this. Coleman, who wrote the Four Season Harvest has a farm on the coast of Maine (Zone 5) and he has a farm stand that sells in-season vegetables directly to customers in his area year-round. In fact, in one of his books, he's tells of only growing during the winter for a few years, and taking a break during the summer. From a business standpoint, it was a great niche that he had all to himself!

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I'd consider expanding this to some other greens/veggies (I'll also look into the book that was referenced), and would love to hear of hguyw's successes.

-ERD50
Or failures as the case may be... This is my first attempt at winter gardening and although I got a late start (had to get the cold frame built) I can see where, with the right timing on planting, I will be able to literally eat throughout the winter from the cold frame in future years.

If you have a three-season room, you may be able to grow lettuce right through the winter. Lettuce is only cold-hardy through December or January in the cold frame but if you've started other greens they'll be ready by the time the lettuce quits. My 'Black Seeded Simpson' lettuce is about ready to quit, but the 'Rouge d'Hiver' (which is hardier) is still fine.

Coleman says mache (corn salad) "will grow on icebergs" and spinach and claytonia is very hardy too - so far, that's what I've observed here. There are also a number of asian greens that seem to be doing very well - I've been eating a lot of mizuna lately.

Folks who think of a salad as iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers will be very disappointed in winter gardening. But if you can expand the definition to include a wide variety of little known cold-hardy greens (that you'll never see in a grocery store), you probably won't miss the tomatoes or cukes.
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Old 12-13-2009, 10:45 AM   #2
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Kale can be kept going for a long time. Other techniques are to supply heat under the plant roots in a hot frame. Can be done with greenhouse mats using electricity or put the plants on top of a hot compost pile.
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Old 12-13-2009, 11:08 AM   #3
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Thanks for starting the thread hguyw. This might motivate me to expand my efforts a bit.

BTW, here's a link to the book you ref'd, I put a hold at my local library:

Amazon.com: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long (9781890132279): Eliot Coleman, Barbara Damrosch, Kathy Bray: Books

I mentioned in the other thread that our herbs are in containers, and now I move them to our three-season room over winter (the room goes below freezing only during real cold spells, typically stays at 30-40F. This is almost zero effort for fresh herbs all year round.

I'd probably be more interested in expanding the containers to some other greens or veggies, I'm lazy and that sounds like less work than outdoor winter gardening, but I'm open to see what the book has to offer.

I'd probably still supplement the salad with some shipped in tomatoes and peppers, etc. But I'm open to trying some different home-grown greens in the mix. Amazon also sells some cheap little thermostat plugs that switch on at about 35F. These can be used with some light bulbs or other heaters to keep a small area above freezing if needed. So that's an option for more delicate plants.

I'll look into kale and some other things. I know spinach likes the cold, but we buy big bags of spinach at Costco cheap, and they seem high quality. Probably not worth the effort/space for me.

-ERD50
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Old 12-13-2009, 11:49 AM   #4
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This sounds interesting. I just started summer gardening this year. Maybe I could ease into it with some herbs in pots near a window sill.

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Old 12-13-2009, 01:13 PM   #5
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Actually "winter gardening" is a misnomer. By the time winter comes, if you've timed your plantings correctly, you're no longer 'gardening' in the winter. Just harvesting. So it's not that much work now. The cold frame becomes like a giant fridge with your greens in it, sort of waiting until the days get long enough to start growing again. Most plantings take place in August, Sept. and Oct to have harvestable crops through the winter.

Today it's cloudy and barely 32. I checked the cold frame and the stuff in there is actually frozen. If I tried to harvest now, I'd have a bunch of dead limp greens for my efforts. Once it gets above freezing, however, most everything will revive and it's safe to pick. It'll be fresh and crisp and will keep well in the fridge. Yesterday, I picked enough for a couple of days so it won't matter if it doesn't warm up enough. I'm finding that this forces me to be very aware of what's going on with the weather as the whole system is dependent on natural forces.

Coleman talks about kale, though I've never tried it. It's the stuff that decorates entrees that everyone throws away - I'll have to sample it next time. It's probably the most nutritious thing in most restaurant meals!
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Old 12-13-2009, 05:55 PM   #6
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Today it's cloudy and barely 32.
Up here it's 32 also, just a minus sign before the number. How will my garden grow?
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Old 12-13-2009, 06:19 PM   #7
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How far "up" is "up here"? Too far north and you might not have enough day length.

According to Coleman, "In the frigid mountains of Vermont (Zone 3) only five crops - spinach, scallions, mache, claytonia and carrots - will be dependably harvestable all winter from a cold frame, and only mache during the coldest periods. However, the rest of the crops take only a two-month hiatus and will be yielding again soon enough as spring returns. Any crops that don't bounce back can be removed and the area replanted, as you will want to do with empty spaces all along.

We've been down in the lower twenties for several nights already and so far so good. I'm basically using this first winter to observe - what will happen in January and February? On average, the coldest week of the year in CNY is the 2nd week of February.
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Old 12-13-2009, 06:39 PM   #8
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How far "up" is "up here"? Too far north and you might not have enough day length.
North of the 52nd parallel. There was (I hope) a bit of kidding involved.

Edit to add.
I looked up horticulture zones for North America. I'm at the northern end of zone 2 (Anchorage Alaska is in zone 4)
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Old 12-13-2009, 09:42 PM   #9
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I let Safeway do my winter gardening, but after I am home to stay, I figure I will do a little square-foot gardening.
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Old 12-13-2009, 10:39 PM   #10
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Even though I'm an avid (nearly rabid) gardener, I take the winter off to rest & relax....as do ALL of my in-ground and container gardens. The only 'veggies' I have growing through the winter are garlic and onions in the rose beds....they'll get picked next summer. I picked the last of my banana peppers this past week....that was the last plant, and it was in a container in my workshop.

Winter is the time I use to plan out next year's gardens and new plant selections, as well as making plans for changes in the landscape. I ordered all of my new seed and plant catalogs this morning!
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Old 12-14-2009, 12:18 PM   #11
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I love winter gardening but I live in central Texas... I grow anything in the Brassica Family. Along with some hardy herbs... now in my atrium other non hardies grow as well.
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