It’s hard to think about a winter garden when it’s 90F outside…. but, really, this is the time to plan, clean the summer garden, and plant the fall/winter garden in its place.
Why starting now? Because unless you have a heated greenhouse your crop will go into a state of hibernation in the very cold month even if you cover it like I plan on doing, therefore, you want it to be almost fully grown by then.
The first step in planing your winter garden is to know your winter. How cold is it? Maybe it is not that cold at all… If you live in South Florida, for example, you might not need to cover your crop at all, or you might need to cover it only at night. However, if you live in Michigan… well, I am not sure you can grow anything at all….
You can find your gardening zone (or hardiness zone) by entering your zip code here. Once you know it, check your first frost date…
The first frost date tells you when the temperatures in your area have the chance of reaching 32F or bellow. This gives you a general idea of when the growth of your crop will slow down and when it will become necessary to cover the crop so it doesn’t freeze.
I, for example, garden in zone 7B. My first frost date is October 15th.
This tells me two things:
1. I want my winter crop to be almost fully grown by October 15th, which means that I need to start planting most crop around the middle of August. However, crop that doesn’t take long to grow, like Spinach or Salad Greens can be planted even latter.
2. Around October 15th I’ll need to start cover my plants if I don’t want them to freeze. This means that my hoop houses need to be ready by then.
Take into consideration that the possibility of frost at the dates above is 50%. Frost might come in your area later or before those dates, so you have to check the weather daily, it will be ashamed to wake up in the morning and find all your crop froze during the night.
Also, in my area I know that even though the night temperature might reach frost around October 15th, the day temperature is still warm, so I will most likely cover my crop only at night and leave them uncovered during the day for as long as the days are warm. This means that I need to make sure the plastic on my hoop houses can be removed easily.
My next step was choosing what I want to plant. I looked around in my seed box and chose the cool weather veggies. I ended up with:
This is my planting space. This picture was taken in March after I cleaned the winter garden, added soil and compost and before I planted the summer garden. Right now, I sill have some things growing in the garden, but I already cleaned a good part of it which I will start planting this weekend. The rest will be harvested by the middle of September and in its place I will plant things like lettuce and spinach which grow fast.
I am not going to use the pots in the winter, only the raised beds since it will be easier to cover and uncover.
In one of those beds I still have purple sweet potatoes, which I will dig in September, and in the other one I have tomatoes which are pretty much done so I will clean them over the weekend.
This small bed will be planted with garlic. I will cover the soil with some dry leaves or straw but it won’t be covered. The garlic should be ok in the soil during the winter and hopefully will start grow next spring. I never planted garlic before so this will be a nice experiment.
I drew my beds on a piece of paper and wrote down where everything is going to be planted. The dotted lines are my irrigation hoses. Each crop will be planted on both sides of the hose.
Lastly, this is how I build my hoop houses over the beds. I use flexible PVC pipes (which are very cheap) to make 3 arches along the beds. Wooden sticks are already nailed to my beds to hold the fence, so I attach the pipes to them with zip ties (also very cheap).
I make sure to cover the ground with straw (I will try dry leaves this fall) for extra warmth, and use a simple white plastic (the thicker kind) to cover the beds. I hold it down with bricks, this allows me to easily uncover the beds whenever I want to.
That is it. Last winter we enjoyed some great vegetables. This year I am adding a lot more so it will be interesting to see what we succeed with and what fails.
Are you planing a winter garden of your own?