Grow a Winter Market Garden

Find perennial markets for your produce to keep your garden growing—and the money flowing—through winter, no matter how harsh the weather.

| November/December 2018

  • winter vegetables
    When you meet a prospective buyer for the first time, package your produce attractively. First impressions matter!
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Brent Hofacker
  • cold frames
    Old-fashioned glass cloches protect plants from frost, but are heavy, expensive, and easy to break.
    Photo by Getty/Brett Charlton
  • Salad greens growing
    Many salad greens will grow well under cover all winter.
    Photo by Wes Smith
  • snow covered hoop house
    Knock heavy snow off your hoop houses to let in light.
    Photo by Wes Smith
  • Gritty holding beets
    Root crops, such as Gritty's beets, tend to do well in winter growing conditions.
    Photo by Brad Anderson
  • fresh winter vegetables
    Bunch of fresh organic beetroots, garlic and carrots on wooden rustic table
    Photo by Getty/ istetiana
  • leeks
    If you hill leeks as they grow, you can get a good harvest even in bitter cold.
    Photo by Getty/bhofack2

  • winter vegetables
  • cold frames
  • Salad greens growing
  • snow covered hoop house
  • Gritty holding beets
  • fresh winter vegetables
  • leeks

Running a profitable market garden in winter can be challenging. In my area, the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, winter subjects us to everything from subzero temperatures at night to sudden daytime pops of heat that will make spinach bolt. Fortunately, modern advances in plant protection technology — I'm talking about cheap plastic and cloth, folks — help our carefully chosen plants weather this testy season.

Invest in Infrastructure

In his 1909 book French Market-Gardening, John Weathers notes that Parisian markets completely outshone English ones in winter, and he credits the French gardeners' growing techniques. Parisians used glass cloches, which are essentially miniature greenhouses, over each plant or set of plants that needed protection, and bio-organic heating in the form of fresh, decomposing manure under the growing media. Cloches were so expensive that the gardeners took great pains not to break them, often repairing them by hand if they were damaged.

Modern market gardening requires a much smaller investment after you set up your original infrastructure. Greenhouses are the backbone of any successful winter gardening operation. If you have the cash, you can go for an insulated, double-layered, wood-framed, barn-sized structure, but for most of your growing, any single-layered hoop house will work. Instead of expensive, breakable, and sometimes irreparable glass cloches, a 12-by-50-foot hoop house for less than $1,000 will serve your needs all year long. However, a hoop house alone won't overcome the winter extremes I mentioned.

Fortunately, the fixes are easy to implement as problems arise. There are two major events to watch out for once your plants are safely sequestered in a hoop house: extreme cold and unseasonable warmth.



Extreme cold will be more likely, and it's guaranteed to happen in the northern parts of the United States. A hoop house will protect plants during the day, even at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but the structure will lose heat fast at night. So, as soon as twilight begins, we pull frost covers, also known as floating row covers, over the plants inside the hoop house. This creates an insulating effect, and prevents much of the moisture of the hoop house air from settling on the leaves and freezing. Instead, the moisture settles and freezes on the covers, adding further insulation against the day's heat attempting to escape from the ground. In the 12-by-50-foot hoop house I mentioned, you'd spend around $70 for two row covers, and about $100 for a large pack of 76-inch wires, to bend over the plants and hold the covers above their leaves.

Frequently, an unexpected warm front will bring us 75-degree weather in mid-January. Dealing with unseasonable heat is even simpler than with cold: Build your hoop house with roll-up sides. Roll-up sides are easy to set up and operate; Johnny's Seeds has some great plans for how to add them. You start with an extra layer of wooden framing on each curved side of the hoop house. Use wiggle wire to anchor the lower edge of the plastic sheeting securely inside a piece of channel lock — a thin strip of U-shaped metal with its sides pointed inward. Attach the channel lock to a length of electrical conduit, attach a crank, and then you're able to roll the sides up or down to trap or release heat from the hoop house. When it's fairly windless outside, an enterprising person can set up an entire hoop house with roll-up sides in a day.

Athena
11/7/2018 8:58:15 PM

Thanks I have a greenhouse and you have helped me. I will purchase book as well






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