American gardeners usually plant in the spring, and harvest in the fall, and then hurry to “get the last of it before the frosts hit”. European gardeners are far more aware that some of the best crops come in after the frost hits!
Many spring and fall crops will bear long after the frost hits the garden. Most “cold” crops will continue to bear down to 15 degrees F, as long as the daytime temps get warm enough to thaw them out and give them some growing time.
In northern zones, you’ll need a layer or two of protection to keep things going. That means a row cover, a cold frame, or an UNHEATED greenhouse. In really cold areas, you may need to double up – using row covers in the greenhouse, or a coldframe in the greenhouse, row cover over the cold frame, etc.
Alaska is the only area in the US where there is a need for heat, since there are insufficient hours of sunlight to sufficiently warm a greenhouse in the daytime during deep winter. Even in that harsh climate though, an unheated greenhouse can extend your growing season by up to three months on either end.
Growth slows way down in the winter, and so does the need for water. Not only that, but the bugs are not a problem at all! It makes winter gardening surprisingly low maintenance!
The crops that grow best in the winter are those that are planted earliest in the spring. This includes a BUNCH of fragile greens such as lettuce, cress, endive, arugula, and raddichio, which either don’t ferment so well, or which never make it onto my menu simply because I dislike the sharp flavor.
The point being, pay attention this spring to what you are planting earliest, and many of those are your best winter crops. You will probably need to order your winter crop seeds in the spring also, so save your extras, or get an extra pack of the seeds for your winter crops.
Peas can be started very early, but the blossoms are more prone to freezing than the hardier plants listed below.
You can either plant your winter garden sometime around September, or you can just let your garden keep going into the winter.
There are more crops than those listed below which do well in this situation, but this will get you started!
Beets – Beets thrive in a cooler environment, for both roots, and greens.
Broccoli – After you pull the head from your broccoli it will send out side shoots from the leaf junctions, some of which can rival the main head for size. The longer you pick those into the fall though, the faster they will bolt, in a desperate last ditch attempt to set seed before it freezes. Broccoli that is planted later tends to be more stable for fall and winter harvests, as does broccoli with larger heads. Those varieties that are bred to send out lots of side shoots are less appropriate for winter growing since they bolt more easily in the fall. Cold weather broccoli tastes so much better than warm weather harvested heads. More sweet, less sulphur – and no cabbage loopers to gross you out.
Cabbage – You have never tasted anything like baby cabbage leaves grown in the cold weather! They are so good sauteed in butter with a little garlic! So plant some Dutch Cabbage to keep and mature late into the fall and winter (for better flavored cabbage heads), but plant a little late cabbage for fresh baby cabbage leaves also – they can be used and fermented the same as Collards, only they taste much better! Cabbage can also have the main head removed, and it will form new mini-heads at the leaf junctions of the remaining plant.
Carrots – Carrots are a biennial crop, which means they start from seed one year, and set seed the second year. This means they hold very well over the winter in the ground, but start to get pretty tough when the weather warms up again in the spring and they start getting ready to set seed. If you start them in the fall, they will still form wonderful sweet baby carrots (which have a richer flavor than summer grown baby carrots).
Cauliflower – Pretty much the same rules as Broccoli. New heads will form at the leaf junctions when the main head is removed.
Chard – Chard grows well through the heat, and through the cold. Get it started before the frosts hit though.
Dill – Fresh baby dill picked from a winter garden is a real treat! It adds a brighter flavor to ferments than mature dill heads. Start in late summer.
Garlic – Garlic will stay in the ground and grow year round if you let it. As long as the ground does not stay frozen you can harvest it all year. If the ground does freeze, the garlic will generally come back in the spring. Green garlic tops snipped into your ferments will add a nice garlicky flavor and a bright dash of herby color.
Parsley – Parsley thrives in the cold weather. It goes well in many kinds of fresh veggie ferments, adding a tangy richness to the flavor. A relative of carrots, this is another biennial crop which winters over in order to set seed the second year.
Kale – Kale will try to set seed in the fall unless you start another planting. Start it about a month or two before freezing temps hit, and it will cheerfully give you a crop of leaves that can be picked individually, and which will keep coming well into the cold.
Kolrabi – Behaves about like cabbage or Kale – does best when planted again in the late summer. You’ll get a better flavor in this from the cold as well.
Onions – Onions are biennial. They start from seeds and form bulbs the first growing season, and then set seed the second year. This means they were designed by nature to winter over. You’ll get amazing sweet onions when you pick them after the first frosts. You can get green onions through the winter as long as temps stay above 15 degrees (outside, or under protection).
Radish – Radishes mature quickly even in cold weather. You get bigger radishes, and the flavor is less peppery when grown in the cold. The greens also make good rabbit or chicken feed!
Spinach – Spinach grows well even when temps are freezing. It is an amazing thing to go out in the morning and see baby spinach leaves with ice bubbles in them – you just know it is going to warm up into a pile of dark goo – but it doesn’t! An hour later it is perky and bright green, and ready to pick for a salad or to pack into a greens ferment.
Lettuces are not appropriate for fermenting, but also make wonderful winter greens to complement your ferments and add fresh vegetables to your table.
This is not by any means a comprehensive list. Many of these foods may be kept in a root cellar, and used well into the winter, but they do not ferment well after they have been in storage. Keeping them going in the garden means they are still truly fresh when you harvest them.
Some crops like carrots or cabbage may also be packed under straw or sawdust to store them outdoors in the garden (still rooted in). I don’t generally recommend that for fermenting, because they are more prone to mold, they tend to gather more debris on some kinds of foods, and covering them with mulch ends up blanching the color from them, which reduces the nutritional content.
Winter gardening is one of the delightful rediscoveries in traditional farming methods that has resurfaced recently, and it is one that is of particular benefit to the fermenter, since a lot of the foods which fermenters love the best are good winter crops.
Try it out this year, in your garden, in a greenhouse, or in containers under row covers or clear plastic on a balcony or sunny porch.
See the miracle for yourself!
The ORIGINAL one-way valve fermenting airlock! Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery, and we have noticed that our product has been copied by other sellers of fermenting products. Remember, if you see someone else selling a one-way valve airlock for fermenting, THEY copied US, not the other way around! Fermenta Lock is still the only original invention, handmade in the US. If it isn't orange, it isn't the original!
We invented Fermenta Lock, Fermenta Free, and the valve used for Fermenta Fido and other Fermenta Airlock products. We invented Fermenta Dunk Extender. Patents are prohibitively expensive, and designed by the government not to protect the rights of individuals, but to provide another source of revenue and control for the government and lawyers. We are good at what we do. We have endless ideas and endless creativity, and competition does not scare us. Impatient thieves do not scare us - they are too busy taking shortcuts to make a success of it anyway, and they won't want to take the effort to actually MAKE a product and fill orders.
So if you want to copy our idea, go right ahead. If you want to market and sell a competing product, you are welcome to do so, as long as you do not patent our idea - we had it first, and our posts on FaceBook announcing the invention and launch of it will prove that. This idea is officially in the public domain, placed there by us. We will NOT release supply sources, or part names unless you want to buy them - we'll be happy to sell you an instruction kit. If you buy our product, or look at the images and figure it out for yourself, good on you. Compete with us if you like, just don't screw us, and we'll get along just fine. Big companies who might want to screw us may have more money, and more lawyers than we do, but we have more to gain by suing the pants off a big company, and believe me, we will be well motivated to do so if anyone patents our idea and claims it as their own - this is a free idea. Everybody now owns it.
Published June 23, 2012
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