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Growing Food Through the Cold Season

Sure, you can extend summer’s harvest into fall, but the really impressive gardening happens in the dead of winter. With a few low-tech tools, you can protect plants from hard freezes and harvest fresh food for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and beyond.

Season-Extending Techniques

Hardy varieties: Some varieties of garden plants simply grow better in lower temperatures. Rouge d’Hiver Romaine lettuce, for example, becomes even more beautiful, blushing red as the thermometer dips. Green and yellow types of Swiss chard perform better in cold than pink and red ones. To discover more cold-tolerant varieties, read seed catalogs and consult your state’s extension agency. A slow-growing, long-bearing crop, Brussels sprouts should be planted in early spring, or mid to late summer for a crop that matures in the fall. The small heads mature best in cool and even in light frosty weather.

Unfancy Blankets and Fancy Row Covers: Sometimes all you need to stretch a season is a little protection. Cover plants on freezing nights with castoffs from your linen closet or thick layers of mulch that can be pulled back in the morning. Or opt for tarps, floating row covers and tunnels available at garden centers.

Cold Frames: Under serious cover, many plants that survive fall temperatures will keep on producing. Giving plants even one additional layer of protection is like moving your garden more than one full zone to the south.

Vegetables to grow outdoors in winter

Most winter vegetable plants are fully hardy and will cope well with cold winter weather, but if hard frosts threaten then you can always throw some fleece across them to provide some extra protection. Most can be planted or sown directly outdoors to ensure that your winter vegetable garden is fully stocked.

1. Onions and Shallots

Autumn planting onion sets are easy to grow and will virtually look after themselves over winter. Onions have a long growing season and won’t be ready for harvesting until next summer, so you will need to plan carefully as they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring. In recent years Shallots have become more popular with the trendy gardener.

2. Garlic

Growing garlic is very easy and there are several of varieties to choose from for autumn planting. Like onions, they have a long growing season and won’t be ready to harvest until next summer, but it is well worth the wait.

3. Spring Onions

Winter hardy varieties of Spring onion make a tasty accompaniment to winter salads. They are a fairly quick-growing crop and early autumn sowings should be ready to harvest by early spring. Spring Onion “White Lisbon” is a popular and reliable winter hardy variety.

4.Perpetual Spinach

Perpetual spinach makes an excellent “cut and come again” crop that will produce huge yields of tasty leaves. Early autumn sowings will keep you supplied with tender young leaves throughout winter and with regular harvesting it will continue to crop well into summer. Be sure to remove the flowers to prevent it running to seed.

5. Broad Beans

Autumn-sown broad beans can be harvested in spring up to a month earlier than spring sown plants. Broad Bean is one of the best for autumn sowings, being particularly quick to establish. Once the plants are well grown, you can even use the plant tips—they are delicious wilted with a little butter.


Enjoy an early crop of peas next spring. Autumn sowings of rounded varieties are particularly hardy and will give you a head start next season. You will be the envy of the neighborhood when you start harvesting peas 3 or 4 weeks earlier than other growers!

7. Asparagus

If you have plenty of space, plant a permanent asparagus bed this autumn. Although asparagus beds take several years to establish, each asparagus crown can produce up to 25 spears per year and will continue cropping for 25 years. You will need to be patient with this crop—as it will be two years before you can harvest them properly—but the promise of tender, home-grown asparagus spears is well worth the wait.

Vegetables to grow in the greenhouse in winter

Growing winter vegetables outdoors will make good use of your plot, but there are some crops that will need protection from the cold. Vegetables that grow over winter can be sown into cells and transplanted later into the soil borders of an unheated greenhouse, or grown under polytunnels, cloches, and cold frames.

8. Winter Salads

Salads are not just for summer! Sow tasty “cut and come again” mixes under cover for harvesting throughout the winter months. Plant rows of Lambs Lettuce, Land Cress, and Mustard alongside to add a spicy, peppery flavor to your winter salads.

9. Carrots

Plant this cool-weather crop a few weeks before the last expected frost; plant again every 2 to 3 weeks after that. Most take 70 to 80 days to mature, so the last planting should be 2 – 3 months before the first expected fall frost.

10. Pak Choi

This dual purpose oriental vegetable can be harvested young throughout the winter as individual salad leaves, or let the heads mature and add the succulent stems to stir fries. Pak Choi is quick to mature and packed full of healthy vitamins A and C as well as Calcium, Iron and Folic Acid. Although it is often grown as a summer crop, Pak Choi can still be sown in late summer for transplanting under cover in autumn.

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