Most of my core gardening and farming skills come from watching my elders grow things.
As a kid, I used to welcome the winter months, because the garden was asleep and grass did not grow. I could focus on the more important stuff like Christmas, holiday school breaks and very little outdoor work. I can even remember telling myself that once I got old enough, I would never plant a garden again.
I think we can all see how that turned out.
After I threw that last thought in the compost pile and started growing my own garden, I learned that just because it’s winter, it does not mean one cannot still grow things outside. At this point in life, my family and I harvest produce every month of the year out of our garden on some level. Just last month, we pulled a 5-gallon bucket’s worth of carrots out of the garden.
Since I never really stop growing stuff anymore when the weather turns cold, winter just flies by for me. Case in point, this year I am already starting to feel the spring rush at my house.
The fun usually starts for me during the last week of the year. While most people are making New Year resolutions, I am making seed lists and doing final checks on garden maps. Once those chores are done, I make a garden calendar with planting dates. My next step is to order the seeds and get all my germination supplies together.
All these pre-planting activities take place before Jan. 20 in my household. February is when all the real fun starts with the outside garden prep. In my opinion, the real start of spring is Valentine’s Day, not March 19.
Cole crops, like most plants, can survive with only six hours of sunlight a day. In February, we get at least 10 to 11 hours of sunlight each day. The ground is rarely frozen in the lowlands of West Virginia in February, if at all in the towns and cities. The only thing that hurts us is the ambient air temperatures, but with modern technologies in the field of hydrocarbon sciences, we now have myriad season extension films. They work as a cover to keep our plants happy, warm and healthy during these last few cool weeks of winter.
Not all plants need a cover to survive in the cooler temperatures. Peas, sprouting broccoli, some cabbages, kale, carrots and Brussels sprouts will all grow in the winter outside, if given a little care. Planting these crops in raised beds near a structure and getting good seed from a reputable company will almost undoubtedly ensure you have a harvestable crop come December, January and February.
The carrots were the last thing I had in last year’s winter garden. However, we have already planted an 80-foot row of peas, and I will set out green onions by the end of February. Our cauliflower and broccoli seedlings are 4 inches tall already, and I hope to have them in the ground by March 15.
So, for those of you who believe or have been told that you can’t grow food all year, in most of West Virginia I would strongly disagree with this outdated thought. Over the last 10 years or so, 1,500-plus high tunnels have been erected on West Virginia farms. I have seen some pretty cool season extension techniques used inside of high tunnels around the state.
If you own one and have some neat ideas on extending a crop, would love to hear from you about your experiences. I would like to do a follow up on this come early fall. Remember: Life is a garden, so dig it!