Trudging out to the garden through a couple inches of snow is worth it when the reward comes in the form of fresh greens. It was 24 degrees when I picked this kale, tatsoi, mustard, arugula and other greens. They will make an amazing salad for dinner tonight.
I've been working on extending the season in my garden for a decade. It's a matter of planting the right crops at the right time and with the right protection.
Even though I try to spread the word about planting early and late in the season, most gardeners seem uninterested in harvesting through the winter. Even my radio partner Jessica Walliser, who is an amazing gardener, isn't onboard. She likes taking a break from gardening. "I'm done," she says when I try to coax her with the prospect of a few left over six packs of greens.
I found a kindred spirit though in Niki Jabbour. I can't really remember how we first connected, but as a guest on her radio show, The Weekend Gardener, the conversation turned to winter gardening. Much to my surprise Niki wasn't just growing stuff in the cold, she was an expert. Niki then released "The Year Round Veggie Gardener." Through her book, she taught me countless techniques to improve my late season plantings.
We enjoy sharing stories and tips about of the cold weather garden. She lives in Nova Scotia, where winter is real compared to Pittsburgh.
Here are a few tips when planning next year's garden to harvest 365 days a year, even in our climate.
There are countless plants which will thrive year round. I love growing all the greens above, but many root crops and other plants can be harvested in the winter.
Things like kale, mustards, corn mache, tatsoi, bittercress, cress, leaf lettuce, arugula, dandelions, beet greens, spinach, escarole, mizuma, turnip greens, Swiss chard and more are good choices for growing greens.
I love to plant them at the end of summer and into fall. Some are covered with a floating row cover. It's a spun bound, translucent fabric which acts as a greenhouse. The plants can hold up the lightweight fabric, but I use 12 gauge wire from the hardware store to construct low hoops for the row cover to lay on. Some beds get a double row cover for extra insulation.
I also use a cold frame, which is basically an unheated outdoor greenhouse. It faces south and is pitched at 35 degrees to get the best use of the winter sun (when we see it).
The greens are harvested through the winter and are easier to access during a thaw.
What isn't harvested by spring will grow again as the light and temperature increases. Most will thrive until the end of June when it gets too hot or the plants are exhausted.
Early spring is also a great time to try these crops. They don't just survive a frost, they need cool weather to be their best.
When looking through the seed catalogs this winter, thing about extending your season. There's nothing better than a fresh garden salad for dinner when it's 20 degrees and snowy outside.