Growing Veggies in Fall and Winter

Reader Contribution by Marie James
article image
by Unsplash/ Carolina L.S.

For years we’ve been planting our vegetable garden in spring and summer, enjoying the bounty until it runs out or the plants die with the first frosts of fall.

We’ve used mulch and row cover to extend the harvest a bit, but we’ve never had anything fresh from the garden past October.

The only garden produce we’d eat for the rest of the year was whatever had been frozen, canned, dehydrated, or stored away in a root cellar.

This year that’s going to change. Even in our four-season climate, it’s possible to harvest fresh veggies not only in the summer and fall, but all year round. We’re going to get in on the fun.

green little pea plants


Late planting of peas for fall crop.

All it takes is careful planning and some kind of protection against the elements of winter.

Over at our family blog, Rural Living Today, we’ve been discussing fall and winter gardening. First we reviewed a great book that had inspired us. Niki Jabbour, author of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, raises fresh greens and other veggies during Nova Scotia’s true winters. She got us thinking maybe we could, too.

As we gathered more information and planned our strategy, we put together a brief introduction to cold-season gardening. We’ll continue to blog with more details, ideas, and suggestions from a number of sources.

Fall gardening includes both extending the harvest of summer crops and planting specifically for fall production.

Mulches, row covers, and low tunnels are fairly simple ways to make this work. For winter production, those methods can be supplemented by the use of cold frames and greenhouses. A combination of more than one material or structure will multiply the protection factor.

garden prepared for planting

A few factors will improve success with fall and winter gardening.

Selecting the right plants and varieties

  • Many root crops may be left in the ground, mulched well, and harvested as need throughout the winter.
  • Hardy vegetables such as carrots, kale, leeks, and mâche may need nothing more than poly hoops.
  • Less hardy vegetables and herbs may require a cold frame to continue providing fresh greens for several weeks or months. Perennial herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme) may remain green longer in this environment, delaying dormancy.
  • Beans, eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes may continue to bear or ripen fruit in a heated greenhouse.  

green cilantro plant

New cilantro plant getting ready for fall

Starting with mature plants 

  • All plants should reach maturity before cold weather sets in. Seeds should be planted well before the average date of first frost.
  • Some plants will continue to grow in protective structures; others will be in a “holding pattern,” maintaining their freshness until harvest.

Selecting a convenient, sunny site

  • Winter veggies will do you no good if they’re not accessible! Many people like to site their structures near the house or a path that is well-used even in winter.
  • Root crops buried under deep mulch can be placed anywhere, but plants growing above ground should be located where the sun will warm them on bright winter days. A south-facing slope is ideal. The sun’s rays will reach through clear and opaque row cover, polyethylene, plastic, and glass coverings.

Protecting plants from the elements
Several types of materials and structures provide protection from frigid air and frost. These include:

    • Plastic or glass cloches (jars, jugs, bowls placed over individual plants for light frosts)
    • Mulch (straw, leaves, pine needles)
    • Row cover fabric (flat or hooped)
    • Plastic or polyethylene hoops (film placed over rigid hoops)
    • Cold frame (protective sides with clear glass or plastic lid)
    • Greenhouse (unheated or heated)

kitchen containers to protect plants from overnight chill

Three simple cloches from the kitchen–the milk jug allows ventilation, but the storage container and jar should be removed each morning to give the plant air.

So what does this mean for my family’s fall gardening schedule?

  • We made a point of succession planting into late July, directly sowing patches of carrots and peas to mature in the cool temps of September.
  • Though we’ve never had our indoor seed-starting setup in operation past June, in August we cranked up the grow lights and started a batch of seedlings to provide fall and winter harvest.
  • The row cover we normally use briefly in spring and early autumn will be put to use all fall and winter as an extra layer of protection.
  • The low tunnels we’ve been intending to make for protecting spring starts are now on our September agenda.
  • We hope to build a cold frame to have near the kitchen so we’ll be more likely to grab some fresh salad greens and herbs for winter meals.

If you grow vegetables or herbs through fall and winter, I’d love to hear about your favorite plants and methods.

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