Saturday, February 7, 2009
Our Winter Garden
We live in the northern part of Idaho in zone 5-6. The last few years we have had milder winter temperatures ranging anywhere from -15° up to 40° in December and January, but we have had -40° wind chills in prior years. The garden being pretty much dormant from December through April makes for a rough time if you want to eat anything green.
About four years ago I started experimenting with growing winter greens under row covers, and it has worked very well for us. The hardest part, other then snow removal, was figuring out just what we could and could not get to grow or at least survive in the winter months.
I have compiled a list of plants that do well for us in the winter - all have made it through the winter one way or another and returned to life at the first sign of spring. Some of these plants do well into December, wither away after a few harsh frosts only to make a dramatic comeback as soon as the temperature stays above freezing for a week or two. Other plants hold steady throughout the winter months.
Arugula - It usually makes it into January, but if mulched a little bit will come back in the spring..wild arugula seems to do best.
Boc Choy - Always makes it through the winter in good shape, the biggest problem is the voles seem to like this plant in particular. Bolts quickly in the spring.
Beet - Bulls Blood beet greens, or should I say 'reds', do well all winter and as long as I keep them cut back they are slow to bolt in the spring.
Cabbage - Does well as long as they are small going into the winter and are mulched.
Chard - Mature plants don't usually survive the first couple frosts but come back in the early spring. Small young chard often provide for us all winter.
Chives - Chives die out in the cold but come back in the spring.
Cress - Belle Isle Cress can do well all winter.
Collard Greens - Ours usually have severe slug problems in the fall but by spring are a whole new plant.
Chicory/Endive - Belgium endive and wild garden chicory do well into December and then suffer much the same as chard only to come back strong as soon as the weather warms. I grow some Wild Garden chicory that has re-seeded itself for the last 4 years.
French Sorrel - My favorite sorrel, next to wild sorrel, likes heat and withstands a couple frosts, much like chicory comes back every year as long as it is left alone and allowed to re-seed.
Kale - One of my all time favorite plants, and the most hardy of all the winter greens. Dwarf Blue Curled Vates (make sure and use the dwarf type) and Red Russian seem to do especially well.
Kohlrabi - If mulched well it will survive well into the winter under row covers.
Leeks - We mulch the leeks and if the voles don't get to them first they come back in the spring.
Mache - A very hardy plant that we sow in the fall for spring greens, it is not a cut and come again plant like all these others so we usually save it for early spring salads.
Mustard - Another plant that can be harvested all winter long.
Onions - If left in the ground most will produce green onions in the very early spring.
Oregano - A garden perennial that can be harvested for soups, pizza, or salads all winter.
Parsley - If kept a little dry it easily survives the winter.
Purple Broccoli - Early Purple Sprouting is an heirloom bred for overwintering and if mulched a bit they do just that, providing spring florets.
Purple Peacock Broccoli Kale - A cross between Green Goliath broccoli and two varieties of kale is new to our winter garden this year but seems to be holding up so far...fingers crossed.
Radicchio - Young radicchio will hold throughout the winter, we plant Radicchio di Treviso.
Radish - Greens do well in cold weather but it really attracts mice and voles.
Red Sorrel - Under cover it is very cold hardy, not very flavorful but a welcome addition to a mid winter peasant salad.
Rutabaga - Greens come right up through the snow in a mild winter.
Salad Burnett - New to our winter garden but we have high hopes for it. Adds a very interesting flavor to salads.
Spearmint - Holds up fairly well much like oregano as the leaves are very desiccant.
Spinach - Spinach does well throughout the winter and really comes to life in the early spring.
Turnip - The root bulb and greens normally hold up well all winter if the voles and mice share them with us.
Short of moving to a warmer climate for fresh greens all year long, this is how we have to make do through the way too long winter months!