Garden In The Cold
The reason we choose to grow certain crops in Fall and Winter became apparent especially early this year. As our friends in the North were getting pounded by tons of snow, the wintry blast brought our area night time temperatures in the teens a couple of months earlier than we would typically see this type of weather. In fact, nearly the whole month of November has seen below average temperatures and several especially windy fronts have moved through. Not to worry the greens have taken it all in stride.
Don’t Be Scared
Having moved to Georgia from Minnesota, it took me a year or so before I believed in Winter vegetable gardening. Not that I was worried about getting a long-term deep freeze, but I knew that we could receive zero-degree blasts this far south (on occasion). My concern was how the plants would respond, once established in mild temperatures, to a sudden cold snap. After experimenting with the local favorites, collard greens and broccoli, I found that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Eleven years later, I grow a good variety of crops with a layer of mulch being the only cold protection they receive, no matter what. The greens are always, by far, the most productive. If they are well established going into the cold, they continue to produce right through the deepest cold snap. They do slow down during January and February, so I plant more than we need for Fall in order to get enough during Winter. The bonus of this strategy is that it demands that we share our excess.
Choose Hardy Varieties
Our biggest cold weather crops by volume are collards, broccoli and turnips. They were all fairly well established by the first of the month. In fact, we were making braised baby greens in the middle of October. Having them well rooted early on makes all the difference in both cold tolerance and winter productivity. Our smaller crops: beets, chard, spinach, lettuce, mizuna, bok choy, carrots, onions and garlic are at various stages of development and happy as can be in the cold. Several of these crops were planted far later into the Fall than the seed packet recommends, but to us germination is the biggest hurdle. With normal Winter temperature fluctuations these crops will grow to maturity between now and Spring planting time, and will withstand the coldest weather our local climate has to offer.
Because our winter weather can vary so much from year to year, we don’t really follow the recommended planting times that closely. Instead we risk wasting a few dollars on seed that may not come to bear, for the possibility of a bumper crop of Winter produce. We don’t plant tomatoes in October, but rather stagger the plantings of a variety of cool and cold tolerant crops up to, and even after the average first frost date. As home gardeners who have a bit of extra space available, the only losses we risk beyond the cost of seed are time and labor, which aren’t that much. Results have varied with the weather from nearly 100% success to nearly 100% failure. Un-scientifically speaking, I’d say we’re significantly better than 50% on the winning side of the gamble. Happy gardening (and stay warm)!