For around $10 you can grow fresh salad fixings to harvest for months We are eating salads most every night now. They’re healthy and I love the variety I can get by having a different mix of greens each night. The fixings can get expensive, especially if I want to eat organic. Here’s a simple way […]
It’s time to start gardening with Spring crops! As the daylight extends a little more each day, and the soil temperatures gently begin to rise, its time to ease into garden season with a full array of spring crops that
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Are you ready to feed your family? If you want to reduce your dependency on the commercial food supply, you better start now. Establishing crops, building infrastructure, raising animals, and working out the kinks takes time, and you may have a few less successful years before you can really eat off the grid.
Assuming you have a house on cleared land, with at least one usable outbuilding already constructed, you will be able to focus on growing food. With long working days, attention to seasonal change and weather, efficient work practices, and regular routines, two adults can work the land for food within a few years.
Here’s nine foods that can make you 100 percent self-sufficient. Keep in mind that crops like lettuce – which is easy to grow and doesn’t store very long – aren’t on the list.
1. Beans. Reliable and easy to grow, beans are a nutritional staple for the homesteading family. Prepare the soil early, and plan on 2-3 months of growing before harvest.
2. Poultry. If starting with chicks, expect 2-3 years of successful rearing, selection, brooding and culling before you will have your flock established. In the meantime, you will collect eggs and eat birds you choose not to keep in the flock. Start with 10-12 chicks, and plan for them to be around 3-4 months old before butchering.
3. Rabbits. Rabbits are quick producers of meat for your family. It is not unreasonable to expect 20 or more rabbits per year from a single breeding pair. Allow for 1-2 years for your rabbits to become established. Select for breeding performance, health and size, and introduce new genetics regularly.
4. Corn. This is a prolific grain crop needing much nutrition from the soil and up to four months of heat for production. In your first year of growing corn, it is not unusual to have a lot of losses due to weather, pests or soil issues. However, once you have worked out the issues, corn can be an important staple grain. Plan on about two years of learning before cultivating a substantial harvest.
5. Wheat. One of the most common grains in the American diet, wheat is reasonably easy to grow but hard to harvest. Wheat is ready after around two months of hot weather. When planning to start wheat, figure in threshing and grinding time.
Fruits & Vegetables
6. Winter Squash. Grow winter squash to supply your family with important vitamins and to provide you with an easy keeper crop. Winter squash takes up to four months to mature, but you should be able to get a good yield in your first year with appropriate pest management and watering.
7. Apples. Although apples can be extremely useful, you need to plan on 6-10 years with your trees before they will bear fruit. Your patience will pay off, however, and planting apple trees is well worth the wait.
8. Potatoes. Potatoes are easy to start, and you can expect a good yield in your first year of growing them. Short-season varieties will grow in as little as two months, but longer-season varieties can take three months or more.
9. Honey. While not strictly necessary, honey is a fantastic sweetener on the homestead and comes with lots of nutritional benefit. However, bees take a while to get production ramped up. Your first-year harvest will be very small, but in the second year you can harvest up to 30 pounds of surplus honey from one hive (leaving the bees something to eat over the winter).
What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:
Grow Your Own: Winter Lettuce and Microgreens Winter is a tough time to grow food, we all know that. This article shows us how to grow winter lettuce and micro greens inside over the winter months. If SHTF this may be all we can gather, especially if you get a lot of snow and freezing …
The outdoor growing season is ending for much of North American, but don’t despair — you can continue to grow food to eat. With the help of grow lights, you can provide fresh vegetables to be harvested during the cold months of winter.
And if you get started soon, you can be eating your vegetables in January. All of these vegetables can be grown in two months or less:
1. Microgreens are a delicious choice for an indoor garden. The leaves are harvested when young and tender, which makes a wonderful addition to salads and winter dishes. They can grow as quickly as two to three weeks. When the plants develop at least one set of true leaves, they can be harvested. You only harvest the part above the soil. The leaves are not only tasty but also are rich in important nutrients.
2. Bok choy or Pak choi. These greens need lots of water but are fast growers. Plant them in large pots so they will obtain moisture better. The plants reach harvesting stage at about four weeks. Clip only the outer leave, allowing the plant to continue producing on the inside. Or, you can harvest the whole plant at baby size if you want it for stir frying.
3. Beans can be grown under grow lights, and bush beans are the best choice for indoor use. Supports aren’t necessary, and harvesting is a lot easier, too. You may want to think about planting several plants so that you have a bigger yield. Beans can be picked between 50-60 days after planting.
4. Radishes are an especially great vegetable to grow indoors. From seed to actual radish takes about one month. If you plant them back to back, you can have a continuous supply of radishes all winter. Plus, it’s just not the tuber that’s good to eat, but the greens can be added to salads, as well. The radish seeds can be sown in five-inch-deep trays of compost and well-drained soil in straight rows. They need to be covered with paper until they begin to sprout. Seedlings can be thinned out when two to three true leaves appear on them.
5. Spinach & lettuce grow well under grow lights. If harvesting for baby greens, you can harvest when the leaves are about three to four inches tall at about 20-30 days. If you’re harvesting for a larger plant, then harvest between 45-60 days.
6. Arugula is a plant that has an even higher yield when grown under grow lights. The more you cut it, the more it grows, giving an unending supply of leaves. It can be harvested about 30 days from when it’s planted. Pick only the outside leaves of the plant.
What are your favorite vegetables to grow under lights? Share your tips in the section below:
Cold frames are a great way to grow healthy, fresh salad crops like lettuce, kale and spinach all winter long! Salad crops are the perfect choice when it comes to growing in cold frames. They are quick to germinate, have
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Spring and summer bring a bounty of wonderful fresh vegetables to enjoy and for many, salad greens become a staple. But in the fall and winter, you might feel like you’re missing out if you can no longer enjoy fresh greens from your garden.
For the most part, salad greens such as lettuce, spinach, mustard, arugula and certain herbs are cool weather crops, best planted when temperatures are around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. When soil temperatures fall below 50 degrees or rise above 80 degrees, germination can be hit or miss. The good news is that with a little bit of planning, it is possible to enjoy fresh salad greens year-round.
Choosing Your Varieties
One of the great things about lettuce is how many varieties are available to today’s gardens. Different shapes, colors and textures – a green salad need never be boring! But if you’re wishing to have fresh greens year-round, you need to make your selections based on more than just appearance.
Plan on getting at least eight to 10 types of seeds. For outdoor gardening, get your start in early spring by planting varieties that do well in cool soil and less daylight. These include types such as Arctic King and Black Seeded Simpson. A variety of arugula called Astro also does well.
As the weather begins to warm, you’ll want to switch over to more heat-tolerant greens. Consider lettuce varieties such as Red Butterworth and Larissa or spinach varieties such as Tyee or Emu.
For greens that you intend to grow indoors, choose varieties that are suited to an indoor environment such as Tom Thumb lettuce, Catalina spinach and Mesclun mix.
Seed Starting – Indoors or Out
If you expect to have fresh salad greens throughout the year, then you’ve got to have a steady supply of healthy young transplants. This means you’re going to be planting one or two pinches of seeds each week.
Choose soil or potting mix that has a good amount of organic matter. If planting outside, first use a fork or trowel to mix in some compost with the top few inches of soil.
During ideal soil temperatures, greens are easy to grow by directly sowing outdoors. When it is either too hot or too cold to plant outside, you can plant indoors using grow lights.
Planting With Grow Lights
For cultivating salad greens indoors, it is best to have a set of two to four fluorescent bulbs with a combination of warm and cool white light bulbs. The newer T-5 bulbs are also a good energy saving option. Be sure to replace bulbs once they start to turn black at the tips.
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Greens tend to not too picky about the type of container that they are grown in, so you can use whatever is available, including pots, plastic trays and recycled containers from the grocery store as long as they have decent drainage.
Seeds should be sown between ½ to 1 inch apart and not very deep (some types of lettuce seeds actually need to be exposed to a bit of light in order to germinate). Once the seeds are sown, mist them with water. Cover containers with plastic wrap until the seeds have started to germinate.
Planting in Outdoor Microclimates
If you are not a fan of growing indoors but would rather extend your outdoor season, this can be done by creating outdoor microclimates in order to keep your soil close to the ideal temperature range of 60-70 degrees.
Using hoops and a row cover, you can create tents in your garden that will protect your greens and allow them to grow outside for much of the year. When the temperatures drop to around 25 degrees Fahrenheit during winter and late spring, it is best to use a garden quilt and as the temperature starts to warm, an all-purpose garden fabric will do the trick.
You also can use the same principle to keep your lettuce and spinach thriving in warmer temperatures. When the mercury reaches 80 degrees or higher, use the same hoops but with shade netting in order to lower the temperature of the soil.
Another option for outdoor winter growing is to make use of cold frames.
Most types of greens will regrow if they are harvested correctly. Use a clean pair of scissors or knife and cut the leaves, leaving about half an inch.
Having tasty and fresh salad greens every month of the year does not have to be “mission impossible.” With some planning, you can grow lettuce, spinach and other greens outdoors for most of the year, and indoors for the few months in which outdoor growing becomes too difficult. During the dead of winter, outdoor plants are likely to stop growing – or grow very slowly; however, if protected property, most of the hardy plants will overwinter and be ready to harvest again come March.
What advice would you add on growing lettuce year-round, including indoors? Share your tips in the section below:
The centuries-old German gardening technique of hugelkultur imitates forest growth, using rotting wood to supply green growth with water, nutrients, beneficial bacteria and fungi. Using hugelkultur practices in tubs, you can produce tasty winter greens. This simple approach fertilizes your plants, places quality bacteria and fungi in your container’s soil, and helps retain water for your growing greens.
The craft of hugelkultur gardening starts with a healthy mound of partially rotten wood about 40 inches wide by any length you wish, using large wood chunks with smaller branches to fill in spaces between the bigger pieces of wood. Compost, grass clippings, tree leaves and topsoil are added, resulting in a mound approaching five feet in height, with two slopes at roughly a 65 to 80 percent grade.
The decaying wood at the base of the hill releases nutrients for plants growing on top of these mounds. Heat also comes from the rotting process, boosting soil temperature. Half-rotten wood acts like a sponge, soaking up water, which is then accessed by your plants’ tap roots. The hill’s surface area gives gardeners three times the garden space on soil and requires no tilling. Hugelkultur is a very popular gardening technique for permaculture enthusiasts.
Hugelkultur in a Tub
When transferring hugelkultur to containerized gardening, the hill concept is eliminated, because there isn’t enough space in an average tub to construct a mound as described above. But all of the other hugelkultur advantages are enjoyed. Here’s how it’s done:
- Obtain several plastic totes or tubs. I bought mine for a buck each at a local Salvation Army secondhand store. Mine are 21 inches long, 16 inches wide, and 16 inches high.
- Drill 1-inch diameter holes in the bottom. I drilled 5 or 6 holes.
- Cover the inside of each hole with a 2-inch-square piece of fiberglass screening material.
- Fill about 4-5 inches of the bottom with rotten deciduous wood. An oak/hickory forest on my land supplies me with an abundant supply.
- Add about 1-2 inches of grass clippings, which will compact. I added ground-up autumn leaves, but this is optional, according to the season.
- Next, add 3-4 inches of compost. My compost includes decayed vegetation and monthly additions of chicken manure coming from cleaning out a coop where a dozen chickens roost every night. I have multiple compost mounds that sit a year prior to use.
- Since my soil tends toward the acidic side on soil pH levels, I added about ½-inch of hardwood wood ash, which sweetens, or boosts the soil’s pH to a more neutral level. Lime does this, too, but since I burn wood for heat, I have plenty of free wood ash. This step can be omitted if your topsoil contains a neutral pH level, determined by a pH kit or an electronic pH reader.
- Fill to the top of your tote or tub with topsoil, either purchased from a nursery, or from your own weed-free home source.
What to Plant in Your Hugelkultur Tub
Once your containers are filled, plant seeds of your favorite winter greens and watch them grow. Cold-hardy plants are desirable for growing greens through the winter. Plants that can grow in cold temperatures include winter spinach, winter lettuce, arugula, Asian greens (tatsoi, dwarf bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and mizuna or Chinese mustard), chard, kale, and mâche or corn salad. I grow kale, winter lettuce, and Fun Jen, a mild-tasting Chinese cabbage in my hugelkultur tubs.
I learned the importance of cold-hardy plants the hard way. A summer lettuce variety turned into little brown crusty wisps as soon as freezing temperatures infiltrated the top of the tub. I got a couple of tiny bits from radishes that I planted in a hugelkultur tub, but most of the radish plants turned into brown mulch, too, after a cold snap.
Protect Your Winter Greens
Even though some heat is generated by hugelkultur planting practices, greens survive winter better when grown under the protection of a greenhouse, a hoop house or tunnel, or a mini-hoop house or mini tunnel. I protected my winter greens during sub-freezing temperatures inside a mini-hoop house, with supplemental floating row covers through sub-zero temperatures.
What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:
Vegetables typically get one go-round in the kitchen, and then we toss the carrot tops, sprouted garlic or celery bottoms in the compost bin or garbage can without giving it a second thought. Who would imagine that many kitchen scraps actually have the potential to regrow into usable vegetables?
Most vegetables won’t regrow indefinitely, and they probably won’t grow enough to feed your family for very long. However, re-growing vegetables can save you money and in the meantime, many are attractive, decorative plants that bring a bit of the outdoors into your kitchen. If you’re looking for fun gardening projects to inspire kids, this one is sure to be a hit.
Try these vegetables:
1. Celery, bok choy and romaine lettuce – Slice the bottom from the bunch and put it in a bowl of warm water with the cut side facing up and just the root end submerged. Watch for leaves to emerge from the center as the outer section gradually turns yellow and deteriorates. Once the celery bottom has several healthy leaves, plant it in a container filled with potting mix, with only the leaf tips showing above the soil.
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2. Avocado – This is an old trick that kids love. Unfortunately, the plant isn’t likely to bear fruit unless you’re patient and willing to wait a dozen years or so. In the meantime, enjoy the lush, green plant.
To grow an avocado plant, just use toothpicks to suspend a cleaned seed, wide end facing down, over a glass of water so only the bottom half of the seed is submerged. Place the glass in a warm spot where the avocado is exposed to indirect sunlight. Check the water every day and add more as needed.
Once the stem grows to about 6 inches, cut it down to about 3 inches. When you notice new leaves, plant the avocado in potting mix with about half the seed above the surface of the soil. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
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3. Potatoes – Cut potato peels into 2-inch chunks, each with at least two eyes. Set the chunks on the countertop to dry for a day or two, and then plant them in a large, deep container with the eyes facing up. Cover the potato chunks with 4 inches of soil, and then as the plant grows, add an extra 4 inches of soil. The new, tender potatoes will be ready to harvest in a few weeks.
4. Onions – Slice the root end from the onion, along with about a half-inch of the onion. Plant the onion in potting mix, root side down, and water as needed to keep the soil moist. The onion should be ready to harvest in several weeks. At that time, cut off the root end and grow yet another onion.
5. Ginger root – Plant a small chunk of ginger root in potting mix, with the buds facing up. Water as needed to keep the soil moist, and then harvest the entire plant, roots and all, in a few months. Grow ginger root indefinitely by saving a small chunk from the new root.
6. Garlic – If you’ve left a garlic clove a little too long and it’s sprouted, don’t throw it away. Just plant the clove in a pot with the root end facing down. When the clove is well-established and displays new growth, trim the shoots so that energy is concentrated on the clove. You can grow garlic this way indefinitely; just start a new garlic clove from the newly grown bulb.
7. Carrots – Unfortunately, you can’t grow new carrots with carrot tops, but you can use the lacy tops as an attractive garnish. Put the carrot tops in a tray or dish with a little water, cut sides down, and place the dish in bright sunlight. Check the carrot tops daily and replenish the water as needed. Snip off small amounts as often as needed.
8. Cilantro – It’s easy to start this pungent culinary herb by placing a few stems in a jar of water. When the stems root, plant them in a pot. The new plant will be ready to use in a few months.
What advice would you add? What vegetables would you have placed on our list? Share your ideas in the section below:
The Fall Crop Gardening Experience. As we get set to head into August, many gardeners are caught up in the excitement of the summer harvest. Everything from tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and corn seem to be ready to pick daily, and the
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If you are chomping at the bit to get in your garden – there is no need to wait any longer! Now is a great time to get that garden growing with all types of delicious, early season, cool temperature-loving Spring
While it may be a few weeks for much of the country before we can plant any warm-season crops like tomatoes, beans and peppers, we can start planning cool-season crops right now.
Cool-season crops are those plants that can take a bit of frost and don’t do well in hot weather. These plants are typically done growing by June, just when the warm-season crops are beginning to take off. Examples of cool-season crops include lettuce, broccoli, radishes, turnips, carrots and onions.
For these cool-season crops, you should plant them as soon as the soil is workable.
1. Chives. This plant is a perennial herb that can be harvested as soon as the leaves appear in early spring. The leaves impart the classic chives flavor, but the edible late spring blooms taste more like onions. Chives do well in containers and also in perennial garden beds.
Plants can be propagated by seed or by division, and planted 8-12 inches apart. They are great for attracting birds and bees, are deer resistant, and make a great low-maintenance garden plant.
Culinary uses for chives include salads, used in egg dishes, as a garnish in cream soups, and, of course, on baked potatoes.
2. Spinach. Spinach is packed with essential nutrients like iron, calcium, protein and beta-carotene.
Spinach is easy to grow, and if you place it in shade, you may be able to keep it growing throughout the summer months. Where winters aren’t very harsh, spinach can be grown in late fall to allow for harvesting early in the spring, and it can also be overwintered in a cold frame. It can be grown both in partial sun and in full sun.
The small baby leaves can be harvested for salads 20-30 days after sowing, and the larger leaves can continue to be harvested until the hot weather leads to bolting. The larger leaves are quite tasty when briefly sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Whole spinach plants can be harvested 25-50 days after seeding.
Propagate spinach by direct seeding as soon as the soil is workable, about 4-6 weeks prior to the last frost date.
3. Lettuce. Lettuce comes in a wide variety of colors, shapes and flavors, and if you start growing your own, you’ll likely develop your favorites. Growing your own lettuce produces much fresher and tastier lettuce than you typically can purchase in grocery stores. Lettuce is a plant that really does best in cool weather, and one that bolts and tastes bitter when it gets too hot. You can find a number of more heat-tolerant varieties on the market. It also grows successfully in containers, as it does not require much space to grow.
Directly seed lettuce seeds as soon as the soil can be worked, at spaces of 2-12 inches apart, depending on the variety. Harvest can be extended by seeding every three weeks until late spring, and then again in late summer for a fall harvest.
Warning: Some lettuce varieties cannot tolerate hard frosts. Choose your varieties wisely. Romaine can tolerate a light frost but not a hard one.
4. Kale. A nutritional power green, kale seems to be all the rage these days. Kale bestows many health benefits to those who consume it, including iron, vitamin K, antioxidants such as carotenoids and flavonoids, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium and anti-inflammatory properties. Kale can be used as a garnish and added to salads, stir-fries, steamed vegetable dishes, soups and stews. The flavor and the color of kale are improved when the weather is cool and frosty.
Kale can be propagated from seed and grown in partial sun or in full sun. Be sure to plant kale plants at least 12-36 inches apart from one another.
Baby kale greens can be picked 20-30 days after seeding, and the mature leaves can be harvested 30-40 days later. Individual leaves can be selectively harvested and the plant will continue to produce more of them. Older leaves can be cooked and used in recipes.
What would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:
Nothing compares to the taste of freshly made salsa, pasta sauce, soup or a beautiful salad from your very own garden! With nothing more than a tiny plot of backyard space or a sunny patio – you can easily create and
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Winter gardening is good for the mind. It keeps us thinking and learning new things, which helps our brains stay alert, healthy and young.
But gardening can be hard when there is a foot of snow covering the garden. Have you ever thought about growing vegetables indoors? Indoor gardening helps us grow fresh produce until our outdoor gardens are ready to be used again. Incredibly, there actually are vegetables you can grow and eat within about a month.
Let’s take a look at five quick-growing vegetables that thrive indoors.
Setting up for Indoor Vegetables
Vegetables simply need air, nutrients, water and light. Windows are a perfect place to sit your vegetables, especially in south-facing window, although grow lights can be beneficial if you don’t have the right set-up. During the winter, indoor vegetables need at least five to six hours of sun, as well as good quality air circulation. Put your vegetables in pots, or have a mini-garden.
Mini-gardens can be made from large containers with proper drainage. Each vegetable will need a space of about four inches. Plastic dishes and pans have worked for many. Growing flats also works for indoor gardening. When using pots or containers, make sure the pots drain well so your vegetables don’t become waterlogged.
Most potting soils works well, but look to see what kind of soil your vegetables do the best in. Remember to use potting soil and not gardening soil. Gardening soil often gets packed down in containers.
Note: Do not overwater, but at the same time, don’t underwater. Once they grow, harvest from your plants often to encourage regrowth. Stay away from drafts.
Which Vegetables Should You Try?
You can grow pretty much any vegetable, but if you are pressed for time, or don’t like waiting months during winter before tasting your produce, you may want to take a look at the quick-growing varieties. (Baby greens are quick and easy to grow. They add color and a fresh taste to the usual winter dishes.)
Here are five vegetables you will be able to enjoy within about a month.
1. Radishes. This vegetable is known to be one of, if not THE, fastest growing vegetable. Radishes only take 25 to 30 days to grow after being planted. They are fresh and colorful, adding a little zip to salads, or even to use as a healthy snack.
Radishes take up very little space and are very convenient. They come in an endless list of varieties and colors.
2. Green onions. The stalks of green onions can be harvested after only three or four weeks. Most onion plants can take around six months to fully mature, but green onions are an exception. They take up little space indoors, and can frequently be used for cooking. They like rich soil, often a mix of compost and potting soil.
3. Lettuce. Lettuce is easy to grow indoors, and does especially well when grown in containers. This vegetable can handle its seeds being sown close together and still grow well. Most leafy lettuces, especially romaine, can grow to the harvesting stage in about 30 days. Let the leaves grow to about three inches before cutting to eat.
4. Baby carrots. Keep in mind: These are baby carrots, not regular carrots. Baby carrots are quick to grow. They take up to 30 days to mature, where other regular varieties can take 50 or more days. You can sprinkle the seeds on the top of the soil and moisten the surface. You can thin out the seedlings to the amount you want when you see the growth. They love the sun.
5. Baby spinach. This plant grows very similar to lettuce. It doesn’t require a lot of space to thrive, either. Spinach only takes four weeks to grow once planted. It is super healthy, and adds color and distinct flavor to any dish. Spinach can be used in salads, sandwiches, omelettes and other endless dishes.
Growing your own winter vegetables is a healthy and entertaining way to spend your winter. You will know where your fresh produce is coming from and you can have their freshness throughout the colder months. There is no need to suffer the winter “blahs” or boring, plain dishes. So try your hand at these five indoor winter vegetables you can grow in a month.
What vegetables would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below:
If you are a gardener, this has probably happened to you. You stand up to take a break from weeding and notice that the neighbors are strapping kayaks to the top of their car. Or maybe you saw on social media that your friends are traveling across the country to an exciting vacation spot. You don’t do any of that. You’re too busy in the garden.
I’ve been there. As I stand up and stretch my aching back and wipe the perspiration from my forehead, I sometimes ask myself why I do it.
The answer is easy. I do it for the fresh vegetables. All of us intrepid vegetable gardeners do. We are so devoted to the notion of fresh vegetables — with no toxic chemicals or genetically modified anything in them and fresher than anything money can buy and all the varieties that taste better than the commercial kinds — that we go to ridiculous lengths to raise them.
And if the key to happiness is fresh vegetables, the only drawback is winter. In my latitude, the weather frowns on gardening for at least half of the year. It is true that there are plenty of canned vegetables to come between us and starvation. And we could always hit the produce section of the supermarket in a moment of weakness.
But maybe we can extend the season.
There are plenty of ways to stretch cold-weather crops into the winter and to get a jump start on the other end. The sky is the limit, with the possibilities reaching as high as your imagination and construction savvy and budget will take you. But to get you started, here are a few basic ideas to try.
1. Choose cold-hardy vegetables. Even though we all crave fresh eggplant and tomatoes all year long, it is not possible in the far north without a pretty fancy setup that includes a heated building. Certain plants are so sensitive to cold that the first light frost can do them real damage. However, there are plenty of vegetables that can be grown, or at least maintained, in cool temperatures. Most members of the brassica family, especially kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens, are pretty good at holding up to cold. Root vegetables like turnips and rutabaga and carrots and parsnips can, too. Beets and Swiss chard, close relatives to one another, are great candidates for harvesting late into fall. Spinach, some varieties of lettuce, and scallions can last into fall but can also be started in very cold spring ground.
2. Tuck a blanket in around your plants. Well, not literally a blanket, but almost. In the same way that humans and animals can keep their core temperatures warmer when wrapped in a layer of protective material — like fur or fleece or feathers or a crocheted afghan — plants can benefit from insulation as well. Layers of dry leaves work well, as does fabric row covering. The latter can be purchased in a variety of thicknesses, weights, widths, and price ranges.
Either leaves or row cover will work for protecting vegetables from cold in fall, but the better choice for spring is a lightweight row cover.
3. Cover them with a “hot jug.” It’s one of the simplest ways to get spring seedlings into the ground early. Cut off the bottom of a gallon milk jug and set it over the delicate young plant, taking the lid off the jar during the day to let it breathe. The idea is that by the time the plant outgrows the jug, it won’t need to be covered anymore.
4. Try cold frames. These are merely raised beds covered with glass or Plexiglas. People often construct them using reclaimed windows or rigid greenhouse materials. These can be so simple that you merely set a window over the edges of a raised bed, or carefully fit it with hinges so that the glass can be raised in notches to regulate the amount of air flow. The glass pieces can lay flat, or lean against another at an angle to form a peak. The end can be made of solid wood or metal, or just a piece of fabric row cover. In some locations, the end might not need to be covered at all.
Cold frames can work as a tiny greenhouse to warm the earth below the glass for starting seeds outdoors early in spring.
5. Consider low tunnels. Just like the name sounds, these are small tunnels — think miniature greenhouses. Like other methods, the options to install low tunnels run the gamut from high-tech to super simple.
Low tunnels can be built in conjunction with raised beds, or right in the ground. They can be any height you like, but are generally around two feet tall.
Low tunnel covering is usually made of greenhouse plastic when the technique is used for extending the growing season. It lets in and magnifies light and warmth, which is crucial in colder weather and for decreasing daylight hours. But the same structures can be used during the prime growing season with row cover to deter insects or with chicken wire to keep out birds, rabbits, deer or even pets.
Low tunnel ribs are available ready-made through supply catalogs, or can be constructed with PVC pipe or electrical conduit. They could even be fashioned with scrap lumber or bendable saplings, if a builder were crafty.
6. Look for warmer areas outside. If there is a warm spot on the south side of your home where the snow always melts early or where the crocuses are first to come up, consider tucking a little spring lettuce seed in there. You can lean a piece of clear roofing panel over it to further intensify the sun’s rays. There might be a wall along the outer edge of the barn that radiates animal heat, too. A plastic window well cover might work to create a nice cold-weather kitchen garden and to keep the chickens from beating you to it.
7. Bring a few plants indoors. Herbs can easily thrive in pots on your windowsill all winter long. Kale can live in pots on your unheated sunporch. And in spring, you can get a jump on the season by starting many of your seeds right in the house.
The upshot to all of this? You can enjoy fresh vegetables later in fall and earlier in spring, and in some areas even close to year-round.
And the down side? You will have to squeeze that ski trip to the Swiss Alps into a narrow window between the last of the kale and the first sprigs of new spinach. Just wave goodbye to the neighbors as you leave for the airport and they are headed out to the supermarket to settle for store-bought produce.
What winter gardening advice would you add to the list? Share your thoughts in the section below:
I’ve written before on how relieved I am that spring is finally here, as evidenced by the warmer temperatures, more birds and the moose coming out of the bush.
Speaking of moose, a friend of mine (Sara Mealey) got some great photos of that same moose I shared with you the other day.
Apparently the moose likes paparazzi. Or should that be people-razzi?
I tell you, spring couldn’t get here fast enough for me.
Okay, I should amend that…
I want spring, but I really don’t want it to arrive with a body slam that will flood my little town. I mean, let’s be reasonable, very few of us are ready to be cut off from our main city an hour away.
I know we aren’t.
We’ve started our plants with lettuce and spinach first. I’m very pleased with how they’re thriving in their little south-facing window.
On the left is Buttercrunch lettuce and on the right, though looking less vigorous, is spinach.
It’s not a huge start, but it is a start. This morning I started some more lettuce and spinach, because, hey, we’ll want more. I also started some basil.
So why do all this when I can get it in town?
- Because veggies aren’t cheap, and neither is the gas required to get them
- Because nothing beats the taste of homegrown veggies and spices
- Because it satisfies my green thumb and there is an undercurrent of hope in growing things yourself
Lettuce tends to be one of those overlooked vegetables. Most people tend to favor iceberg lettuce – the basic leafy part of every salad – and grow it exclusively in their backyard gardens. However, there are many more varieties that are just as easy to grow. Each has its own unique taste, and can add a new dimension to your salads, burgers, and other things.
Lettuce is an annual plant, meaning that it needs to be grown from scratch every year. Although some types of lettuce can survive cooler fall and winter weather (depending on your climate, of course), most varieties of it need to be planted and harvested while the weather is still warm. However, that weather can’t be too warm, as many types of lettuce are picky about heat and humidity. Despite this, it still is one of the easiest vegetables to care for as it grows to a good size. There are a number of different types of lettuce, each of which falls into one of these popular cultivars: butterhead, leaf, romaine, summercrisp, and crisphead.
Here is a quick breakdown of five of these types of lettuce, iceberg included:
Boston Lettuce: Boston lettuce falls into the butterhead cultivar. It grows in a “head” shape, like iceberg lettuce does, but it tends to be smaller. The leaves have a smooth buttery feel to them, and the taste of this vegetable follows suit. When perfectly ripe, it is both tender and sweet, and makes a perfect addition to a tossed salad.
Leaf Lettuce: Leaf lettuce does not grow into a nice, tidy head of lettuce like Boston and iceberg lettuces do. Instead, it grows in a bunch with a stem at the bottom holding it all together. Leaf lettuce comes in two different colors – bright green, and a reddish purple that is usually just called “red” or “red oak.” Either way, this lettuce is both sweet and crisp, making it an excellent addition to your salad – and your garden.
Batavian Lettuce: Batavian lettuce falls into the category of summercrisp varietals. It is fairly heat tolerant, and, like leaf lettuce, comes in a number of colors, ranging from deep green to “red,” which is almost purple. The leaves are a bit thicker than they are on other types of lettuce, and they have an almost nutty flavor.
Romaine Lettuce: Romaine lettuce is a bit of an anomaly among its fellow lettuces, since it is much more tolerant to summer heat than the other varieties. This makes romaine lettuce a very good plant for your garden, particularly if you are in an area of the country that has to deal with hot weather all summer long. Romaine can be used in garden salads, but its slight bitterness makes it a better choice for Caesar salads, where it complements the dressing and other components better.
Iceberg Lettuce: Iceberg is a type of crisphead lettuce. It differs from Boston lettuce both by its size and its color. Individual heads of iceberg lettuce tend to be larger in size and lighter in color. The texture is different as well, since iceberg is crisper and less buttery than its butterhead counterpart.
Pic by Dwight Sipler