Planting in the winter is a great way to virtually double your garden production.
The key to making it work is an understanding of plant diversity.
Some plants, such tomatoes, beans and zucchini, like heat and should only be planted in the summer.
Other plants, such as lettuce and brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnip), are cold hardy and good candidates for winter planting.
To grow vegetables over the winter, they should be germinated before the end of August.
Because of the lack of light, winter crops grow more slowly and will not take off until the warmer air of spring arrives—but they will be growing and putting valuable real estate to good use.
Another good time for planting vegetables is February, March and April, especially for the leafy brassicas and lettuce—West Coast Seeds has a chart in their seed catalogue that tells you what you can plant when.
Peas, snow peas and potatoes are cold hardy, but not much good for planting in the fall as they need bees to pollinate their blossoms.
Planting these in late winter/early spring means that by the time they are tall and have blossoms, the bees are out and about.
When your peas or potatoes are spent somewhere around mid-summer, you can plant something for your fall garden.
This year I planted turnip in late February. I probably could have planted it sooner, but the cold miserable snowy weather made me reluctant to go out and freeze my fingers doing the weeding. If the seed package says, “can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked,” it means you can plant it in winter here.
Root vegetables make another good winter crop, such as beets, carrots, turnip and celeriac, because they grow in the ground where they are insulated from the cold.
Adding mulch to your root vegetables affords them even more protection.
Lettuce grows better in the cold because, being mostly water, it tends to wilt in the summer heat.
Growing cilantro in the cold keeps it from bolting.
The onion family also does well in the cold.
So far, the best vegetable to plant in a winter garden in this climate I’ve found, is leeks.
Leeks grow so well, I was able to obtain a successful harvest while living 12,000 kilometres away for part of the year!
They love the rain, don’t mind the low light and, with a layer of mulch to keep the weeds away, are trouble free.
A superstar in the winter garden is garlic.
Not only does it not mind the cold, but it is considerably larger than summer planted garlic.
October is the “official” time for planting garlic.
Garlic is so cold hardy, it can even grow in the north during long snowy sub-zero winters!
A grow light can be useful tool for getting around the seasons.
After you transplant one set of starter plants in your garden in the spring, you can grow transplantable starter plants for your fall garden to put in the ground in August or September.
If you time it right, by reading the “days until maturity” on your seed packages and selecting the right combination of vegetables, you could even have three crops in one year—with a short season summer crop such as beans or radish in between winter and fall plantings.
All my life I’ve always heard that the Victoria Day long weekend was the only right time to plant.
Maybe that’s true for heat-loving plants, but that’s about it.
In nature there is no such thing as one size fits all.
Debra Lynn is a writer, artist and educator who lives in Port Alice. Having grown up on a farm where all her food needs were met from the land, she rarely saw the inside of a grocery store.
She believes that gardening is the key to a sustainable and peaceful future.