Grit Blogs > City Gal Moves to Oz Land

The Cold Weather Garden

WinterHarvestHandbookMy grandiose fall garden plans - lettuce, green onions, pickling cukes and radishes - never materialized.  I can only blame the time bandit. Before I knew it, October was upon us, and I had not planted any fall veggies.  Coincidentally, I had just ordered Eliot Coleman's "The Winter Harvest Handbook" from Amazon.  As I read through each chapter, I became more and more intrigued by this concept of continuing the harvest through the winter months.  If Eliot can do it in Maine, then I could certainly do it here on the Kansas/Oklahoma border!!

As a side note: this is an excellent book, rated 5 stars by 37 reviewers on Amazon thus far and soon to be given high marks by me also.  I found the history of cold weather gardening to be fascinating, as narrated by Eliot, proving that nothing is new under the sun.

And so I ordered a row tunnel cover from Burpee's website and planted a short row of spinach on October 3. This would be my initial foray into cool weather gardening, and so a short row would be my experiment. Spinach is one of the top cold-hardy vegetables.  As such, it will actually prefer our cool fall and winter weather to the stifling hot weather we have in the summertime. Like a nervous mother hen, I checked on my babies every single day, uncovering them to soak up the sun during the day, and lowering the cover at night to protect them from the cold.  As our nights began to dip into the 30s, I draped towels over the row cover for even better insulation.

October 20 Spinach 

Above photo ~ spinach sprouts on October 20.  Below photo ~ first spinach harvest on November 3. 

November 3 Harvest 

Harvest was estimated for day 42, and yet I began clipping baby leaves for salads at the 3 week mark. As of November 20, the spinach is still doing remarkably well, even though we've had several nights in the 20s now.  Quite honestly, I haven't even put the towels on the row cover at night, and the spinach is still doing remarkably good!

November 20 SpinachAbove photo ~ still beautiful spinach on November 20. 

I'll continue to keep it covered, watered and nurtured as long as it continues to grow.  And I'll count this experiment a success and plant even more fall veggies next year.

When I look at the bigger picture and my dreams... I would love to have a coldhouse (or two!) similar to what  Eliot has in Maine, and supply our local community with fresh greens and root vegetables throughout the cooler months of the year, when fresh, local veggies are in short supply.  Someday! 

oz girl
6/22/2011 6:53:03 PM

Note to my readers: I honestly had better luck with my fall veggies in 2010 than I am having with our spring/summer veggies so far in 2011. Our lack of rainfall has definitely put the brakes on some of our summer growth, along with the fact that I'm currently working two jobs and just don't have the time to devote to our garden like I wish I could. Next summer will be better, right?!! :-)


allan douglas
12/4/2010 2:26:05 PM

This is very encouraging news, and I've already hopped over to Amazon to add Winter Harvest Handbook to my wish list, thanks for the recommendation. I'm in Tennessee and this was my first year to try gardening. My summer success was only so-so, but I'm strutting around crowing like a rooster about the fact that despite several frosts and two snowfalls I'm still harvesting lettuce, spinach and fancy salad greens from my little garden. I too want to keep this going as long as possible. Thanks!


oz girl
11/29/2010 8:55:44 AM

Sandi, I have to agree with you - no bugs, and hardly any weeds. We had a horribly hot summer this year and the bugs were terrible. I couldn't garden the first 2 months without being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I love the "no bug" part about fall/winter gardening. I saw an occasional grasshopper the first month or so, but no more bugs now. And the row cover provides condensation so hardly any watering either! I think I only watered the spinach the first few weeks, and that was only twice a week, if that. I'm looking forward to next fall, and planning a few more leaf and root veggies. Hopefully I'll have some cold frames and a few more row covers then. Thanks for stopping by Sandi! :)


sandi white
11/28/2010 1:27:39 PM

I've been winter gardening for over 20 years now, and it is probably one of my favorite times to garden. The Georgia summer sunshine can bake everything in the ground and you along with ii. Once the temps. begin to lower in the Fall of the year, it's time to put a few rows or beds together and grow the easiest crops of the year, turnips, mustards, and the cole crops; kale, collards, cabbage. Onions, radishes,and beets lend life to a garden salad. Think... no bugs, few weeds, give the hoe a rest and yourself while you're at it. Although we will have temps into the teens, I have never covered a row and they continue to do well. After the Winter Solstice they will pick up their growth rate and by early March you'll be wondering where it all came from.


ozarkhomesteader_1
11/28/2010 1:24:23 PM

Thanks for visiting our little homestead! As you noted in your blog post, the less light there is, the slower things will grow. Still, I had broccoli and cabbage ready to harvest in early April because I planted it in the fall.


oz girl
11/28/2010 1:00:13 PM

Thanks for stopping by Ozark Homesteader! I checked out your blog link, and those are amazing photos of your row tunnels under snow. I've decided to let my spinach carve its own survival mode - no more covering the row tunnel with additional towels or blankets. This is part two of my experiment - see how long the spinach will keep putting out a harvest with just the plastic row tunnel. ;-)


ozarkhomesteader_1
11/28/2010 11:29:44 AM

We're on the border between zones 6 and 7, and I garden all winter under plastic. Even last winter, with our heavy snow and its long endurance, I kept growing. Here are some of my tunnels and cold frames: http://ozarkhomesteader.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/after-the-storm-tunnels-of-veggie-love-still-lovin/


oz girl
11/27/2010 8:07:10 AM

Hi Cindy, thanks for stopping by... that row cover was only $20.95 for an 18 ft long section. Not too bad, I thought. It's easy to roll back during the day on one side, so the spinach can catch some rays and warmth. I have to admit, I've been covering the row tunnel with towels the last 2 nights, since we've dipped into the teens. I did another harvest yesterday morning for a friend, and really cut the spinach way back this time. Beginning Monday the 29th, our days go to less than 10 hours of sunlight until January 13, so any growth will start to slow down... we'll see if I can squeeze one more harvest out of it! We've been renovating our garage, and have a few old windows now - I'm hoping the hubby can make me some cold frames for next spring. :) And Yay! to you for getting that fall garden planted-- those green onions sound pretty yummy. I'm jealous. ;-)


cindy murphy
11/24/2010 8:02:23 AM

Hi, Oz Girl. That row tunnel cover is one nifty-looking contraption. I'm thinking I might try my hand at making one for next spring. Actually, for years I've wanted to make a cold frame out of old windows I've collected from the side of the road where people set them out for the trash. The same as you getting in your fall garden, time got away from me each year, until finally Hubs gave the windows to a friend who was building a work shed. At least they went to good use. I did get around to a fall garden in this year: mustard greens, green onions, and peas. I harvested the last of the greens last week (there are more out there, and though they look great, multiple frosts left them more bitter than we prefer). The green onions were harvested before the heavy frosts, and have stored quite well - the last of them are going in the Thanksgiving stuffing, and spaghetti squash casserole. Only the peas were a bust; those I didn't get in soon enough, and though they developed thin pods (which I meant to harvest for salad, but didn't find time), the frost turned them to mush. There never seems to be enough time. Ah, well, as you said, someday...maybe next year! Have a great Thanksgiving.


veronica
11/23/2010 6:04:35 PM

I have lettuce uncovered in my garden tha tis just fine. Im a 5a-4b here in PA. Ecept for the stupid deer that got in there last night, they are doing just fine. We had a week of 28 degree nights and even uncovered, they did just fine. I'm going to harvest anything thats left for a after thanksgiving salad.


veronica
11/23/2010 5:58:36 PM

I have lettuce uncovered in my garden tha tis just fine. Im a 5a-4b here in PA. Ecept for the stupid deer that got in there last night, they are doing just fine. We had a week of 28 degree nights and even uncovered, they did just fine. I'm going to harvest anything thats left for a after thanksgiving salad.


oz girl
11/22/2010 10:21:27 PM

Hey Dave, in my humble opinion, that's the only proper way to eat spinach ... in a salad!! :-) I'm going to let the spinach do its thing under the row cover as long as it wants to. No more towels at night - if it lives through our upcoming Weds night cold snap, then we'll be the happy eaters of more salads! Thanks for coming by, and I second your rainy day idea ~ stay inside and read a book. Super idea.


nebraska dave
11/22/2010 7:24:58 PM

@Oz Girl, I used to not have a creative bone in my body and never a single creative thought did ever sprout in my mind. You have gone and done it for me. I am thinking about how I could temporarily build a cold house over raised garden beds. It has until next fall to marinate around in my mind. Who knows what will come out by then? I checked out from the library Coleman’s book on winter growing last year but just didn’t have the time to do anything this year. I think that bandit came through my household as well. Your first attempt at cool weather growing sure seemed to turn out well. I like spinach as long as it’s raw and in salads. I’m not so much a fan of cooked spinach except for my mother-in-law’s spinach, but that is smothered in cream sauce so it tastes like cream sauce. That’s not really eating spinach. The weather finally broke here and we are getting into the 20s at night and upper 30s during the day. Today it was drizzly rainy with temperature hovering around freezing. It was a good day to just stay inside and read a book. Have a great cool weather garden day.