Winter Gardening

Years ago I was asked by a Japanese helper what kinds of plants grew here in the winter. I laughed and said nothing grows, it is all frozen solid. She was amazed.

In many places they rotate their crops based on the season. Heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers can be followed by crops that do better in cooler weather like lettuce and peas.

Thus it is possible to get two or three crops off the same piece of land each year. Even in most of Canada it is possible to plant shorter season crops one after the other in the same garden row.

One of my seed catalogues from the west coast actually has a planting chart for direct seeding of some vegetables as early as February and as late in the year as November.

With this in mind, I decided to experiment with some of the more hardy plants in my garden.

I thought, if they can handle some below zero temperatures and snow on the west coast, maybe they could handle some of our late fall/early winter temperatures.

I tried broccoli first.

It didn’t take much work at all. I just didn’t pull the plants out of the garden before freeze-up. But I did keep checking on them, and to my surprise I was able to harvest a small amount of broccoli florets (one cup) on a weekly basis. The last harvest was the first week of December. I was chatting with a fellow farmer a month or so after this and discovered he was also able to harvest kale until early December.

Of course everything depends on the weather of the particular year. If we get an early snowfall before the ground freezes, the plants will continue longer into the winter. It is possible to insulate the ground before it freezes by piling deep mulch over plants.

I have had parsnips survive the winter this way; they were crisp and crunchy the next spring. Although, because it wasn’t something I planned, they were discovered while we were working up the garden with the tiller.

While gardening in the winter usually involves indoor plants or a heated greenhouse, being able to harvest outdoor plants is a treat. Not only is it good to get outside into the crisp air, it is also nice to have fresh food at a time of year when most vegetables have to travel so far they resemble cardboard more than food.

Broccoli is usually all there is out there in the winter, but it is a favourite vegetable of mine and I like how it sweetens from the cold.

Joan Norberg and her husband, Allan, run Grizzly Valley Farms on the Mayo Road. They have successfully endured the Yukon’s short seasons and less-than-ideal soil conditions. Send her your questions at [email protected].

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