The Winter Garden

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Cold and raw the north wind doth blow, Bleak in the morning early; All the hills are covered with snow, And winter's now come fairly.

Cold and raw the north wind doth blow,
Bleak in the morning early;
All the hills are covered with snow,
And winter’s now come fairly.

 

This is the time of year that many people start finalizing their seed orders. Some folks have even started indoor sowings of spring crops, like cauliflower, broccoli, and leafy greens, for later transplanting in the garden. Several of my friends have even started tomatoes (which I don’t do until after March 1st). Everyone is itching to get back into the garden.

Me? I’m already there.

Since November 1st, I’ve harvested almost 200 pounds of vegetables from the garden. The bulk of the harvest has been cold-tolerant root crops, such as carrots, rutabaga, turnips, and beets. Kohlrabi has been a dependable producer, both within and beyond the protection of the low tunnels. And until we entered a serious winter cold snap in mid-January, I was even harvesting side shoots of broccoli and rapini. The freshness and flavor of these vegetables is outstanding — they are not just cold-tolerant, but cold-enhanced. And did I mention the salads? Oh my… the salads! My late-sowings of kale and Asian greens have slowly grown since November into sweet, tender, absolutely amazing baby greens.

An example of a winter harvest. From bottom left and moving clockwise, bull's blood beets (globe and cylindrical), rutabaga, turnips, carrots.

An example of a winter harvest. From bottom left and moving clockwise, bull’s blood beets (globe and cylindrical), rutabaga, turnips, carrots.

Who needs "spring mix?" This winter salad has 11 varieties of tender greens.

Who needs “spring mix?” This winter salad has 11 varieties of tender greens.

 

We’ve seen temperatures in the low teens on many nights, and a stretch of daytime temperatures that never made it above freezing. You wouldn’t think that a little Agribon fabric and 6-mil clear plastic would be much of an insulator, but it never dropped below 22 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the low tunnels. Tolerance of cold temperatures is a matter of degrees for many of these plants, so that extra bit of protection meant the difference between harvests and crop losses for us.

How much difference does the protection of a low tunnel make? Check out the unprotected kohlrabi (left) and Japanese Giant Red Mustard (right) compared to their counterparts in the tunnels.

How much difference does the protection of a low tunnel make? Check out the unprotected kohlrabi (left) and Japanese Giant Red Mustard (right) compared to their counterparts in the tunnels.

There's a limit to cold tolerance for some veggies. Snows and temperatures in the low teens (Fahrenheit) proved to be too much stress on the unprotected broccoli.

There’s a limit to cold tolerance for some veggies. Snows and temperatures in the low teens (Fahrenheit) proved to be too much stress on the unprotected broccoli.

 

The garden is entering into relatively leaner times for some crops, however. I have plenty of carrots, endive, and kohlrabi, but I’m wishing that I had planted more beets and swiss chard. We’ll probably be out of rutabaga and turnips in the next few weeks, but I have plenty of winter squash and sweet potatoes that are still keeping well in storage to fill that void.

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Even with all of these wonderful foods, I’m still antsy for spring like everyone else. I’m anxious to see how my overwintered fava beans will perform, and to taste the beautifully-colored heirloom lettuces that are waiting to take off with warmer temperatures. And I simply can’t wait for peas… they’re probably my favorite vegetable from the spring garden.

Life has intervened on blog-writing for the past month — as much as I enjoy it, it pales in comparison to my family, which will always come first. I hope to catch up on posts soon, but until then, here are some more photos to help you catch up on what has been happening in the garden.

We've received several light snows, but nothing substantial until the first weekend in February.

We’ve received several light snows, but nothing substantial until the first weekend in February.

These favas, sown outside the tunnels in November, looked like they were sure to die, but look how nicely they rebounded a month later! (Pictures taken on January 27 and February 26).

These favas, sown outside the tunnels in November, looked like they were sure to die, but look how nicely they rebounded a month later! (Pictures taken on January 27 and February 26).

The fava beans sown inside a low tunnel are much taller than those exposed to weather, but we'll see if that translates into an earlier harvest or not.

The fava beans sown inside a low tunnel are much taller than those exposed to weather, but we’ll see if that translates into an earlier harvest or not.

There is still A LOT to be harvested from the low tunnels!!! (Picture taken February 26)

There is still A LOT to be harvested from the low tunnels!!! (Picture taken February 26)

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I’ve been continuously harvesting from this bed of baby greens all winter (primarily kale varieties and Asian greens like tatsoi and michihili cabbage). The white flowers in the center walking lane are garden cress, a fantastic edible weed. This bed has been protected all winter by a floating fabric row cover… that’s it.

No, these aren't transplants. These heirloom lettuces were sown early November.

No, these aren’t transplants. These heirloom lettuces were sown early November.

Broccoli raab (rapini), harvested January 14th!

Broccoli raab (rapini), harvested January 14th!

Garlic scapes greet a cool morning in February. On extremely cold nights, I've tucked them in under a deep layer of mulched leaves.

Garlic scapes greet a cool morning in February. On extremely cold nights, I’ve tucked them in under a deep layer of mulched leaves.

The cold temperatures and longer daylight have stimulated many of the over-wintered greens to bolt (like these kohlrabi).

The cold temperatures and longer daylight have stimulated many of the over-wintered greens to bolt (like these kohlrabi).

Guess what we did when we needed carrots for our snowman?

Guess what we did when we needed carrots for our snowman?

This snowman's "hair" gives new meaning to the expression, "carrot top."

This snowman’s “hair” gives new meaning to the expression, “carrot top.”

9 Comments

  1. Little Mountain Haven

    February 28, 2013 at 11:06 am

    this is so amazing. I am so inspired all the time by your winter gardening (and snowman!). I look forward to trying this out next winter to see what sort of winter harvest we can achieve! I had focused our garden design with a lot of summer food and have now re designed it to be focused for winter growing.
    thank you so much for sharing these wonderful pictures of what you can harvest even under the snow!

    • Ma Hubbard

      February 28, 2013 at 11:26 am

      You inspire me, too, Little Mountain Haven! I love your garden reports, and I’m looking forward to all that you’ll report on next winter. Stay warm!

  2. Joyce Pinson

    February 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    You crack me up…and I am so glad we had lunch yesterday! What mischief we are going to get into this summer! Cannot wait!

    • Ma Hubbard

      February 28, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      What can I say… just needed a little boost from a friend. :)

  3. howarda82

    March 2, 2013 at 1:02 am

    LOVE the picture of the girls, the ducks and the snowman. :)

  4. howarda82

    March 2, 2013 at 1:03 am

    correction, snowmen. :)

  5. emma o

    March 5, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Beautiful winter garden!

  6. Annya Uslontseva

    March 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this! If I lived any closer to you I would ask to apprentice with you :) Here in Seattle with our mild winters I have a lot of new starts outside already: Fava beans, green peas, lettuce and kale just to name a few… But after seeing your garden I realize that there is a lot more I can be doing now, thank you for the inspiration!

  7. farmerjonespoetry

    February 9, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Great, GREAT INFO, we are doing much the same thing with winter crops. Thanks!!