Autumn and winter vegetables for Whatcom’s amateur gardeners

Autumn and winter vegetables for Whatcom’s amateur gardeners

Studies have shown that gardening can have a significant positive effect on mental well-being. Not only that, but the American Institute of Stress says that maintaining a home garden can be one of the best ways to combat rising stress levels. Do you get outside, move around and see your hard work turn into tangible rewards? It just feels good.

As the summer months diminish and the gray autumn and winter approach, some amateur gardeners do not want to stop planting (and harvesting) their crops. The following are some tools and techniques to keep your garden going in the fall and winter – and some vegetables that don’t mind when it gets a little chilly.

Gardening in cold weather

If you want to continue planting and harvesting despite the coming rain and snow, it is best to equip yourself properly. Not everyone can afford an expensive greenhouse, but there are other cost-effective ways to help the cold crops survive. With two simple tools, you can achieve similar greenhouse-like effects, while using less and being more energy efficient.

Cold frames

Cold frames are basically tiny houses for your plants, giving them shelter from bad weather and oversaturation from rainfall. They also provide a degree of insulation against colder temperatures and a moderate degree of frost protection. You can buy a cold frame for as little as $ 50 dollars, or make your own for even less.

Warm beds

Warm beds are a cold frame with the addition of a heat source embedded in the bottom of the cabinet. This heat source can be electronic or you can do it the old-fashioned way. During the beginning of the hearth, electricity was not available because it had not yet been discovered – so the farmers used manure instead! As the manure decomposes, it gives off heat, which raises the temperature in the cold frame. This creates a greenhouse effect and gives the plants a warmer environment to grow in.

Autumn and winter crops


An essential element in so many homemade meals, garlic can be a great addition to your garden. Unlike many other vegetables, garlic prefers to be planted in cold weather. The best time to plant garlic clove in Whatcom County is between October and early November, and be sure to have the cloves in the ground before the first winter freeze.

A store-bought garlic. Photo credit: Emmett O’Neill

Garlic has the longest time to ripen on the list in almost 240 days. If you are planting in October, first expect to be able to harvest early the following summer. Garlic does not like wet soil when it is cold, so be careful not to overwater. Once a week is plentiful and only when there has been no rainfall.

Here is a complete guide to planting, maintaining and harvesting garlic.


For all fans of “The Office” who want to follow in Dwight Schrute’s footsteps, consider making a small version of your own beet farm. Although it is best planted in mid-July for autumn harvest, you can plant in beets in September if you plan to overwinter them and then harvest them the following spring.

Beets are easy to grow and require only a small level of maintenance. Photo credit: Emmett O’Neill

If you just want to harvest beet green, you can plant until September 1, but in this case, it is best to use a more hardy winter beet. Lutz Winter Keeper is an example of a rower with good cold resistance.

The good news is that they are very easy to grow and require only a small level of maintenance. Plan to wait 6-8 weeks after the first planting of your beet seeds, and make sure to water the plants weekly.

Here is a complete guide to planting, maintaining and harvesting beets.


Whether wrapped around a burger, like the base of a salad or feeding your pet rabbit, lettuce is an incredibly useful vegetable. This crisp crop loves the cold and becomes bitter if the weather gets too hot. Cold weather lettuce can be planted as late as December and January using a cold frame, and is available in three main varieties. These varieties each take a different amount of time before they are ripe enough for harvest:

  • butter head salad, 34 days to harvest
  • crispy lettuce, like iceberg, 60 days to harvest
  • loose leaves, like romaine, 50 to 60 days to harvest
Lettuce crops love the cold and can be planted as late as December or January using a cold frame. Photo credit: Emmett O’Neill

Unlike beets, lettuce needs to be watered every day. Certain varieties of lettuce will be much harder to grow as the frost approaches. If you intend to plant closer to the snowy months, you will want to use a more robust lettuce such as Winters Portulak or Lamb Salad.

Here is a complete guide to planting, maintaining and harvesting lettuce.


Onions are one of the most versatile vegetables, and one of the absolute easiest to care for. These vegetables do not need to be watered more than once or twice a week. Onions are so easy to plant, in fact, one species does it all by itself; the Egyptian gåløg can produce bulbs that fall back to the ground and replant themselves!

Onions are one of the easiest fall and winter vegetables to grow. Photo credit: Emmett O’Neill

As long as you reach it before the first hard freeze, bulbs can be planted in PNW as late as November. Onions take two to three months to reach maturity, although in some cases you can harvest them early.

Here is a complete guide to planting, maintaining and harvesting bulbs.

Stay healthy this fall and winter

No matter which fall and winter crops you choose, it is important to be busy. Winter in Whatcom can be a gloomy time for all of us, and having an enriching hobby can help you through the harder months. With gardening, you not only learn a valuable skill, but get to eat the fruits (or in this case the vegetables) of your work. Happy growth!

Featured photo of Sandie Clark on Unsplash

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