When the words "winter gardening"
are mentioned, many automatically think of traditional winter crops like kale or
maybe Brussels Sprouts. However, what I have experimented with in the last two
winters was the growing of nontraditional crops like spinach and lettuce. Crops
that work best are those that do not require pollination.
This was accomplished in raised beds
with special lids that look more like traditional cold frames. The lid boxes sit
on top of the raised bed, The lids themselves are wood frames covered by clear
corrugated plastic. Clear works better than white plastic because it allows
maximum warming inside the bed. However, lids must be propped open during warm
periods above freezing to prevent heat damage. The winter of 2006-2007 was a
very warm, and the first year I tried winter gardening. I planted spinach the
weekend after Thanksgiving (2006) and it sprouted and grew during the relatively
mild month of December, part of January, and part of February. This allowed me
to start picking by the beginning of April.
This past winter (2007-2008) was a
I planted lettuce, both iceberg and
Romaine, in October and November. Most of these survived the frigid weather we
experienced and an ice storm, which sent downed branches through many of the
plastic lids. I had also planted spinach in October and November, but this took
much longer to mature than the previous year. I have learned that it is better
to get both spinach and lettuce up and growing before the ground freezes.
Broccoli can be started indoors and transplanted in early February.
Plants go dormant when the ground is
frozen. In northeastern Kansas, there are always periods during the winter when
the snow melts and the ground thaws. At these times, plants grow, as long as
they are protected from frost. Frost is the killer, not frozen ground. Clear
plastic corrugated lids work better than white ones because the air inside the
bed is warmed by trapped sunlight. I lost one bed of spinach that had a white
lid after a particularly brutal cold snap. Even short winter day sunlight is
enough to keep plants alive during brutal cold.
Now it is May, 2008. I have begun to
harvest lettuce (Romaine) and spinach. Broccoli that was transplanted in March
is starting to head. Most of the Iceberg lettuce has started heading. The few
that didn't have been eaten. This is much later than last year, but the weather
continues to be cooler than normal. I guess this is better for the lettuce and
spinach anyway. Last year at this time, it was already too hot and the spinach
started to bolt. Next winter, I will make sure all the covered beds are up and
growing before November. And hopefully, we will not get another ice storm.