Most gardeners call it a season when we have the first hard frost of the fall. This makes a lot sense, seeing how most plants die back after a few heavy frosts.
Some farmers and growers use season extension methods to extend their crops a little longer in the fall and to get an early jump on the spring growing season. Using high tunnels and low tunnels to achieve a longer growing season is a great idea. However, one needs the space for a high tunnel, and low tunnels can become very labor intensive to put up and take down. Not to mention, you will need to roll up the sides each time you access your plants.
What most of us gardeners do at a very minimum, when cold air is in the forecast, is to lay a frost cloth or a sheet right across the top of our sensitive plants and hope for the best. This is the most common practice I use during the first frosts of the fall on my own plants. My wife has accepted the fact that I am a Reemay (frost cloth) hoarder. I personally own 1,500 square feet of the stuff. In other words, I can cover four times what I grow in Reemay.
Once the cold air of winter settles in for the long haul, Reemay becomes completely useless at keeping the plants’ surrounding air temperature above the freezing point. At this point your growing season is done — or is it?
Over the years, I have tried growing an array of vegetables in the winter months. Most have failed to produce any viable results. My ultimate goal here is to use every inch of my garden to grow food year-round without any aids of season extension or extra plant care. This is a tall order indeed, when living in a temperate rainforest like West Virginia.
In the summer of 2015, I had a garden epiphany: What if I sourced vegetable seeds from the Nordic and Scandinavian regions of the world and grow them here?
I found out a lot of seed companies already offer these types of vegetable seeds for sale. You just need to keep growing different winter varieties in your garden until you find a few that can stand our temperatures.
Pine Tree Seed Company, Territorial Seed Company and Mountain Valley Seed Company are great places to find winter plant seeds. Territorial Seed Company even has a winter seed catalog they put out each summer.
So far, I have been very successful at growing Siberian kales, Brussels sprouts, spinach, carrots, beets and onions. Now, you can find a ton of information saying you cannot grow these vegetables past XYZ temperature, or they will only with stand XYZ temperature in short bursts. My garden and winter harvest say otherwise.
Of course you have a few rules to follow. Make sure you are growing root and cruciferous vegetables for your winter garden. Also, you must plant these seeds when the soil is still warm. I have been setting Brussels plants out in my garden around the middle of September, getting my first pick in right before Christmas and going all the way into late March. For any seed you may plant, make sure it’s in the ground by Sept. 1.
As for what varieties of winter vegetables you can grow, I will say this: everyone’s backyard is different and West Virginia has a wide range of growing climates, especially in the winter. Make sure whatever you decide to grow is as cold-hardy as possible. Remember, the goal here is not to cover or shelter these plants much.
If you are willing to grow a few plants in the winter and not listen to conventional garden wisdom, then you might be surprised at what you can pull out of your garden patch in the middle of the season — with little effort.