Contributed by Matt and Brandi of yearroundharvest.com. Thanks, guys! Keep the tips coming!
Even though it feels like summer, late August/early September is when we start thinking about our winter garden. Gardening in winter is a little different from gardening in other seasons: Because growing slows dramatically when the weather is chilly, it's more about harvesting than tending. You want your crops to be nearly full size by the time the days are short and the air is cold. In other words, if it’s early September, it’s time to get busy. We’re still experimenting and are hoping to pin down a few more things this winter. We'd love any feedback from fellow adventurers; please post below!
WHAT MATT AND BRANDI ARE PLANTING
A wide selection of vegetables and herbs can grow well in cool weather with minimal protection. Here’s what we’ll be growing in our winter garden and our approximate planting dates [Matt and Brandi live in central Pennsylvania; you can use this map to determine your zone]:
Carrots: Last week of August
Beets: Last week of August
Swiss Chard: Last week of August
Kale: Through 9/15
Dill: Through 9/15
Lettuce: Through 9/25
Spinach: Through 9/25
Arugula: Through 10/1
Cilantro: Through 10/1
PLANTING IN YOUR OWN ZONE
There are a lot of other vegetables you can grow in winter in addition to those listed above: garlic, tat soi, radishes, turnips, and more. You can find recommendations at a website we’ve been using, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, as well as growing guides, recommended planting dates, and tips on winter gardening from SESE and from a Maryland farmer.
Most of that information is specific to the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, which, along with zones farther south and west, will have a longer growing season than those farther north. But early to mid-September isn’t too late for folks in the Northeast and the High Plains to get a few things like radishes, lettuce, and spinach in the ground. For planting dates and recommendations specific to your zone, you’ll need to determine your first fall frost date. Then you can use that date to determine when to plant, using this chart from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
ONCE YOUR SEEDS ARE IN THE GROUND
Most sources recommend avoiding high-nitrogen fertilizers during the winter, since plants that grow slower are hardier to the cold weather. Our plan is to side-dress our rows with an application of kelp meal to supply some trace minerals.
When it comes to crop rotation, our only rule is not to plant the same crop family in the same area as the previous season. We have four garden plots that we rotate around so that we don’t use the same plot for the same season year after year (so, one year’s spring plot might be next year’s winter). This lets us apply compost to different plots at the end of each fall.
After you plant your seeds, it's a good idea to keep those new rows moist, watering once or even twice a day, depending on rainfall; you may need to water a little more than you would during spring. Once the seedlings emerge, you can cut back on the daily watering unless you have a long period without rain.
The one thing we learned last winter is that crop growth really slows down by the end of November, even under protection. As the days get shorter, the crops grow less. Our goal is to have all of our crops mature by the beginning of November. Some crops, like the greens, will be ready a lot sooner. Other things, like lettuce, we planted one row a week for several weeks in order to spread out the harvest.
MORE WINTER-FRIENDLY RESOURCES
If you’re interested in learning more, we recommend these two great books by the winter-gardening guru Eliot Coleman, of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine—a place where folks know from cold.
• The Winter Harvest Handbook
• Four-Season Harvest
And stay tuned for Winter Planting, Part 2, on building a low tunnel to protect your vegetables from cold weather, coming soon. We’ll walk through our process step by step. In the meantime, don’t be scared to experiment. You’ll learn from each attempt—and what else is your garden going to do after your summer plants have finished their growing season? If you’re hard at work, shouldn’t your soil be pulling its own weight? (We thought so.)
Visit yearroundharvest.com for more from Matt and Brandi on gardening, canning, and planning ahead. Got a comment? A word of advice on winter planting? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. For more tools and resources on building your garden from scratch, check out the Garden Planning 101. And if by chance you came across this 101 during summer, check out Matt and Brandi's Fall Planting 101. You can always find more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, and sow in the HOMEGROWN 101 archive of DIY projects.
What a great article, I was happy to see cilantro in there as I have a bunch and didn't know it might last through winter. I'll be experimenting with it now instead of trying to harvest it all this fall.
Some things I've had success with in Maryland (zone 7) are fall plantings of a fava bean meant for fall planting, spinach, and of course walking onions and garlic. They all grow a little bit in fall, go dormant then really take off in early early spring before the ground could be worked for spring planting.