There’s nothing quite like homegrown produce, right? But homegrown produce in the winter?
What? Is it possible?
It is! And it’s easier than you might think!
Depending on your location and budget, there are many ways that you can extend the growing season of your vegetable garden.
Keep reading to find out how to grow vegetables in winter!
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Understanding Your Zone
Understanding your growing zone is really important when it comes to figuring out how to grow vegetables through the winter. One person’s idea of winter can be very different from another’s!
To give you a brief introduction, countries are divided up into zones and in some cases sub-zones, depending on the temperature range that they experience.
Factors that influence this include altitude, coastal versus inland location, and the presence of microclimates in hilly areas. Mostly though, you’re paying attention to the coldest temperature that a region experiences in an average year and whether or not this is below freezing.
If you live in a growing zone that doesn’t experience freezing temperatures then you are one lucky gardener and you probably don’t need to be reading this article!
However, for most of us, some measures will need to be put in place in order to counter the freezing temperatures that our region will inevitably experience once the short days roll around.
Working with Your Budget
How you go about growing vegetables in the winter really comes down to your budget, space and determination.
There are many different ways of approaching winter growing and plenty of budget options available so you don’t have to jump into any big investments straight away.
Choose Frost Hardy Varieties
Your first step to growing vegetables in the winter is growing seasonally and choosing varieties that can cope with the climate that you live in. If your region experiences frosts, then choosing vegetables that are frost-hardy is essential. This is surprisingly easy as there are so many winter season vegetables to choose from that you definitely won’t get bored.
Some of the best vegetables to grow in winter include spinach, kale, swiss chard, brassicas and some lettuces.
Depending on how productive you want your winter garden to be, this could be the only step you take. Some vegetables will even happily survive the snow! Although they probably won’t grow…
If you’re up for more, keep reading…
Mulch with/without Frost-cloth
Mulching around your winter crops is almost as essential as choosing cold weather varieties. Mulch comes with so many benefits that you’d be crazy not to!
Layering a thick coating of mulch around your winter vegetables keeps the soil warmer, helps prevent the soil from compacting under heavy rain or snow, and slows down the speed that the temperature of the soil changes between day and night which eases the stress on your veggies’ roots.
Mulch also gradually rots down into the soil adding valuable organic matter which helps keep your soil healthy.
Mulch should ideally be laid down just after the first frost of the season.
If you can’t afford or don’t have space for a full-sized greenhouse, then mini tunnels are perfect.
You can choose a small section of your garden to cover and either purchase a purpose-built tunnel or make your own out of bent PVC piping and UV-resistant polyurethane bought off the roll from your local hardware store.
These mini tunnels won’t prevent frosts, but they will keep the average temperature of the air and soil a little warmer which will promote growth, and also protect your fragile plants from strong winds and stormy weather.
For the ultimate environmentally friendly and budget friendly choice, a straw-bale frame ticks all the boxes.
Simply create a border around the area of garden that you want to protect by placing straw-bales on the ground. Use an old window, shower door or purchase some UV-resistant polyurethane plastic to lay over the straw-bales to create a roof. Voila! You have an insulated greenhouse!
You can customize it to the exact size and shape you want just by rearranging the bales, and eventually the straw can be used as mulch.
Protect Vulnerable Individuals
If you only have a really tiny garden and just want to protect a few of your more vulnerable plants, then making small cloches is a good option. Cutting the top off a milk bottle can make quick and easy protection for small or young plants. Alternatively, place stakes around the plant that you want to protect and wrap it up with frost cloth.
The advantage of this method is that you can put it together quickly with little to no warning if bad weather is forecast. The disadvantage is that it’s not a permanent solution as the covered plant won’t receive enough daylight.
A glasshouse, or greenhouse, can be a pricey investment, but it is one of the best investments you can make if you’re serious about growing your food.
A glasshouse is the most effective season-extender before you start adding powered solutions like heat and light into the mix. The temperature can still drop to freezing in a glasshouse in the depths of winter if it gets cold enough outside, but depending on where you live, a glasshouse can provide the ideal growing environment for winter vegetables.
The temperature will usually remain at least a few degrees warmer than outside, allowing for faster growth rates, a higher turnover, and less produce lost to bad weather.
Grow Inside with Grow Lights
Usually reserved for seedlings, growing inside is an option if your budget allows and you have the space.
Growing hydroponically with grow lights can be really effective as you don’t have to worry about the mess of using soil as your growing medium.
Hydroponics also take up less space, can result in more consistent results as you can control more variables, and since you can control your growing environment more effectively, growing organically is easier.
There are two kind of grow lights you’ll need to know about as well, read about HID grow lights and LED grow lights to get started. Which grow lights you choose will depend on what you’re growing as different vegetables and herbs require different amounts of light.
If you’re keen on ensuring that you have a healthy supply of fresh herbs throughout the winter then this article about the best grow lights for herbs is for you.
Alternatively, if tomatoes are more your thing, then we have a guide to get you started on your indoor tomato growing venture.
This is probably not an economical, and almost definitely not an environmentally friendly, way to grow vegetables. But if you live somewhere where the growing season is depressingly short and growing inside your already-heated home isn’t an option, then a heated greenhouse is the luxury winter growing option.
Bear in mind that you will need grow lights as well, as short daylight hours will not happy plants make.
As you can see from all of the options above, there are many ways to make growing vegetables year round a viable goal.
Hopefully, you’ve got plenty of good ideas about how to grow vegetables in winter now and can see how doable it is to have fresh homegrown vegetables on your plate regardless of the weather.
Do you already grow vegetables in the winter and you’re looking for more ideas or are you new to growing year-round and looking for tips? We’d love to read about your experiences so feel free to comment below!