Those of us gardeners living in northern latitudes and higher altitudes commonly think of harvesting in the fall, followed by many months of garden rest before spring comes with new plantings and new anticipations of the next harvest. However, there are some very good, often overlooked reasons for continuing your gardening activities through the cold and snowy months.
- If harvesting fresh vegetables is satisfying during the warm months, think how much more satisfying it would be to enjoy fresh tomatoes minutes after harvesting them while the snow blows outside
- Bugs, not just insects, but slugs, snails, and other garden tormenters, are significantly reduced or absent
- Your need for the vitamins and enzymes supplied by fresh produce increases in the winter while those same vitamins and enzymes are either greatly reduced or destroyed by drying, freezing, and canning of the summer’s produce
- Fresh produce in the store becomes harder to get so it’s more expensive, has been stored longer (decreasing those vitamins & enzymes you need), and has been transported farther – increasing your cost
- Much of the winter produce in the store comes from Mexico with less stringent sanitation rules and habits thus increasing the risk of outbreaks of food-borne illnesses such as last spring’s outbreak of listeria from Mexican produce
- The taste of freshly harvested produce FAR exceeds the taste of produce that has been picked before ripening, stored, and transported many miles – to say nothing of the aforementioned nutrient levels
Obviously, if you live in area where temperatures stay below freezing for weeks on end and feet of snow blanket the ground, you aren’t going to be growing fresh corn in your garden in the middle of winter. Still, there are a goodly number of vegetables that you can grow in your winter garden, and yes, I’ve grown and harvested fresh tomatoes year round when it was routinely 20-40oF BELOW ZERO outside at night – and I did not have a greenhouse.
“So,” you ask, “what’s the secret?”
There are several “secrets” to growing fresh produce in the cold, snowy months of winter without a heated greenhouse.
First, start your winter vegetable gardening with cold tolerant veggies. I’ve previously shared a list of 28 such cold-hardy vegetables. See it here.
Second, make good use of clean straw to mulch around plants that like cool weather, but not freezing.
Third, low tunnels can prolong your harvest of many fresh vegetables all of the way through the winter.
Fourth, medium tunnels can save your low tunnels from heavy snow and increase the protection for the veggies underneath.
Fifth, containers in the house or an enclosed porch can extend the season for many of your fresh vegetables.
If you want additional information on any of these methods, please ask. If you want information on how I grew tomatoes all year without a greenhouse, you’ll have to take a class from us.