What I want to talk about first is 12 month gardening.
We grow food in our gardens for 12 months of the year. When I posted last winter about veggies that like cold weather, one of my lovely readers cross posted it on Reddit. I got lots of pageviews [Thank you!!] and some very interesting comments posted on reddit.
A few people thought my list was ridiculous. They assumed that I go out in January in the snow and plant my lettuce and radishes then. There is a deep misunderstanding of how 12 month gardening works.
Winter gardening is not going out in the dead of winter with your hoe and a packet of seeds and then carving a row out of the frozen ground, then planting the seeds and expecting them to grow like they do in May.
No. Definitely not.
Winter gardening begins in early fall - September, here. We prep the beds and get them planted and then cover them for the winter in hoop houses and cold frames. This way we can harvest through the entire winter and then plant again as soon as our latitude gets enough sunshine in the spring.
It's as easy as you want it to be. Put some straw mulch in there if you want to prevent weeds and water if it gets too warm.
Here are some things to think about now for your winter garden:
1. Good soil: Fertilize with manure or something else before you plant things. This is especially necessary if you've grown a crop in that bed already this year, as I do.
2. Choose appropriate winter veggies: Don't plant corn, squash and tomatoes. Do plant greens, radishes, fennel, carrots and other cold weather loving veg.
3. Prepare appropriate covers: I use a two layer system - a cold frame or hoop house on the outside with row covers or extra plastic on the inside. It's like you being in a winter coat in a car in the sunshine. Even when it's really cold out, you are going to be much warmer than the outside temp. And that's warm enough for the right kind of vegetables.
If you can get your hands on some double walled greenhouse 'glass' [it's really acrylic] or some recycled double paned windows, they'll work too.
And remember - cold frames don't have to be very big and they can tuck up nicely on the south side of your house. That's just enough to plant a short row of radishes and some greens.
4. Plant early enough so that you're still getting enough light for things to grow. Once they get so big, they'll be fine all winter in the ground. This is where the idea for root cellars came from. I can plant until early October.
5. Watering: In cold weather, the plants aren't respiring as heavily as when it's hot, so you don't have to water unless it's really warm in there. If it's warm enough for you to be outside working comfortably, then check the cold frame and if it's dry, sprinkle it.
6. Weeds: They'll grow too, so we use a thick layer of straw between rows. Newspapers or cardboard work just as well.
We will likely be replacing our current hoop house structure [made with pvc] with a structure made with a 16' cattle panel. The old one was fine....until we got loads of snow and it collapsed. The new one should be a little more collapse proof. I'll keep you updated.