A winter garden for healthy food!
Most of us think of fall as the time the garden is finished. And for many things, that is true.
However, there are also quite a few greens and veggies that will grow through the cooler weather, and indeed thrive in the wetter, chillier days, than through the hot. There’s a few that are super hardy and will survive under the snow for digging out and eating as needed, or for harvesting in the spring.
Eating healthy is getting more and more expensive and difficult, and I really don’t believe it needs to be that way. We can each do more by taking responsibility for our own food and household diets.
I did up a quick video the other evening as I was planting my outside garden. It’s the middle of August, and still hot, but that is quickly going to change.
Here’s some tips and ideas for you.
Here’s the things you should be planting now for fall and/or winter harvesting.
- Radishes & Summer Turnips. These are both types that grow quickly, usually in 3-4 weeks depending on the type. If you haven’t heard about summer turnips, they are little, mild turnips that grow about the same size and rate as radishes. Super delicious, and don’t forget that both radishes and turnips have those lovely greens on top that can and should be used in stir-fries, soups, saladas, or sandwiches.If you don’t use them, you are wasting half the plant, and a wonderful food source. I’ve made sure there is a source in the Amazon widget for them below.
- Lettuces & Mesclun Mixes. I’m talking about the leaf lettuces and mesclun mixes, which essentially means a big mix of greens. I recommend the leafy mixes for a variety of reasons. First, they grow quickly, and you can grow a lot of them in a small space. Secondly, there is such a big variety of mixes. Different seed companies have different specialty blends, but essentially there are summer blends, winter blends, stir-fry blends, mild blends, spicy blends…you get the picture. Depending on your eating and cooking needs, you can easily have a different pot on the go for almost any dish.
- Spinach. There are winter and cold-weather hardy types, which are actually very typical for spinach. Many of the newer hybrids are great now for warmer weather, and growing quickly in summer without bolting so easily. However, they aren’t so tough in more extreme temperatures either. Get an heirloom type that does well in spring and fall, and it will most likely do well if started now, in pots, for indoors later. Or, you can let it die down with the snow, and in the spring it will usually come back up, first thing.
- Swiss chard. Traditionally another cool weather type, and if you get the right one can survive milder snow falls or in a cold frame or greenhouse. Get a few pots started for indoor use.
- Snow peas. This is not a common vegetable you hear of, other than the spring, in North America and Europe. However, Asia is a different story. Snow peas are such named because they can literally be planted in the spring as soon as you can get that shovel into the dirt. They thrive in the cold ground, not so much in summer. Which means they can be planted through the fall. However, what most people don’t realize, is that snow pea shoots, not just waiting for the pods, are a delicious part of certain Asian dishes. Google asian snow pea recipes and you’ll see what I mean. Get some planted, a pot or short row every week, to keep them coming and have fresh harvesting for the next few months.
- Cabbages. For outdoor gardens, mostly, heirloom types can be planted now. They will grow until it’s too cold and go dormant under the snow. Early in the spring, they will start growing, providing an early spring harvest, around April or May, when food sources can be low. If you really want to try growing a cabbage or two, find a dwarf hybrid, like the Pixie cabbage from West Coast Seeds. Those can be grown in a pot, and if done properly, are ready in a few weeks, unlike full sized cabbages that can take anywhere from 6-9 months. The other thing is that full-sized cabbages take up a lot of space. Plan on three square feet per plant as they mature.
- Kale. The superhero of cold weather plants. Get it planted now, and it will survive under the snow. You can go out and pick as needed after you shovel the white stuff off. Of course, you could plant a couple of pots now, and just have it on your windowsill as well.
- Mizuna. Ok, so you have dark miserable winters, and need a low-light, out of control food source. This is it. Lack of daylight does not slow it down. A few winters back, I had planted a two-foot row in the greenhouse, thinking that a two-foot row wasn’t that much. Well, we couldn’t keep up with it. If you need an active food source in your household, plant this one, above all else.
- Asian greens. This includes mustard greens, small sui choys, sprouting broccoli, and the like. They are becoming more well known in non-Asian cultures. Many varieties can be found in the ethnic sections of grocery stores, or Asian food markets, if you want to try them out before growing them. Because most of the mustard and brassica (broccoli, cabbages etc) members of this family like cool weather, they are perfect for fall growing, even if they don’t go all winter.
- Sprouts. This doesn’t have to be just a winter thing. But they are a great winter source of fresh nutrients. Instead of paying $4 for a container of sprouts, get your own seeds, an old mayonnaise jar, and some cloth to cover the opening. Sprouting seeds is some of the easiest gardening you will ever do. Extremely nutritious, you can have a constant source of greens by starting a new jar every few days. And no light is required. No soil. You’re not growing the seeds, just sprouting them. It requires rinsing them out 2-3 times a day with cold water to keep them fresh as they get started. Then refrigerating them when they are at the right stage. There are all kinds of kits of various sizes, but you don’t have to have a fancy setup to get going. I say, start small, and increase your variety and sprouting containers as you get used to the process and change your lifestyle to use them.
There are more, but these are the most common and most easily available. Most garden centers in local areas do not carry seeds this time of year. This is where I suggest the wonder of Amazon. You can get almost anything shipped to your door in a couple of days, no matter what the season.
That will give you time to get your pots and garden area ready!
Here are some of my suggested favorites on Amazon for you.
Inside Gardening Tips
To have a few things growing inside year round, there are a couple of things you’ll want to prepare ahead for.
One is getting your greens planted now. By the time its a lot colder and the days are shorter in a few weeks, they are at least 3/4 grown. The reason for this is because as the daylight hours lessen, so will your plants growing. They will slow down, and almost go into a dormant status, depending on a variety of things. You can still use them and they should stay nice and green. But they won’t have the same vigor that they do in spring and summer.
Second is, if you really want to keep them growing as an ongoing food source, you are going to want to get a small, simple grow light station happening. I’ll do another blog post on this, but essentially you are looking for something that has LED lights and literally costs pennies a day for energy.
The idea is to supplement the daylight hours you have with the light system to give your plants 6-8 hours of good daylight a day. This will keep them healthy and growing at a better rate.
Good Food Year Round