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The beauty of a kitchen garden is the seasonal adaptability. Although vegetables will grow more slowly than in spring and summer, winter vegetables are just as rewarding and nutritious.
Especially when they supply organic, fresh ingredients for hearty winter soups and stews on the coldest days.
Focusing on seasonal vegetables is also a sustainable approach. Winter vegetables grow more slowly, need a little less water and do not absorb the nutrients in the soil.
For best results and a reputation for having ‘green fingers’, be aware of planting the right winter vegetables for your area and climate. Most winter vegetables will thrive (even in a little frost), but there are others that do not do so well.
These vegetables and herbs are good plant choices for the winter:
- peasant beans,
- spring onions,
- Brussel sprouts,
- winter pearl salad, and
Remember that extreme frost destroys even the toughest vegetables, and extra coverage is always a good idea.
Lettuce, chard, beets and radishes are a little more sensitive to cold, but provide excellent choice of winter crops under tarpaulins or in a greenhouse-like setup.
For crop protection, use bark chips (grass cuttings, wood chips, straw or other organic material) laid around the vegetables and garden onions.
This keeps the plants warm and adds potential for extra moisture uptake.
Cover rows with garden cloth, tarpaulin or fleece when severe frost is expected; especially for young seedlings.
It is also possible to cover individual shoots with plastic bottles (cut in half) overnight or lay a shade cloth over raised beds.
It is always difficult to water the vegetables in winter. We suggest that you water the garden during the hottest hours of winter.
The roots absorb moisture more slowly than in summer, and the heat helps keep it flowing throughout the plant system.
TIP: Do not water leaves if sub-zero temperatures are expected overnight, as this may cause severe frostbite.
Since winter vegetables are often slow to produce, you need to adjust your harvest time and quantity to ensure optimal growth.
Allow sufficient time to mature and harvest just before frost, preferably in drier weather to avoid sticky soil.
Do not bulge or damage the vegetables left in the ground where possible.
Cold Frame Magic
A new buzzword in the conservatory is #microclimate. This creates a greenhouse effect on a much smaller scale. A good example of this is homemade cold frames for the winter kitchen garden (or seedlings).
Cold frames are a safe way to protect vegetables (and other plants) from extreme weather damage.
The concept is simple: Use a transparent material that lets in sunlight but is tough enough to withstand the low temperatures.
Suggestion is to use a recycled wooden frame (hammered together from eg old boxes, crates or pallets) with strong plastic stretched over. Alternatively, you can buy cold frames.
A creative (and sustainable) idea is also to mount them as ‘lids’ on tall plant beds that can be used during the cold months and stored for the rest of the year.
Sometimes the wind can cause chaos for young greens. A simple windbreak can make a huge difference in a receptive space.
Place mini fences, lay bricks (at intervals) into a low wall, or place shade cloth around the kitchen garden to prevent the wind from tearing up the precious young plants.
A space-saving tip for winter fruit is that citrus trees thrive in large pots.
They only grow as big as the pot allows, but will give delicious citrus throughout the cold winter months.
Even better if stored on a porch or indoors for extra protection from the elements.
In the end, it’s all about the palate. Vegetables harvested in slightly colder (froster) weather will be sweeter and crispier in the kitchen.
Be sure to get them off the ground just before the frost hits, otherwise you may need a sledgehammer to get to them.
No matter what the textbooks say, the experienced hand is always the winner. Do not be afraid to try things, change methods, vary the planting techniques and try different plant partnership combinations.
Why not chat with other gardeners in your neighborhood before throwing yourself into the fight? They can have some great advice on the winter vegetables that do best in your region.
What are some of your favorite dishes to make with hearty winter vegetables?
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for freshness and consistency.
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