How to start a winter vegetable garden

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Why let your gardening season end, with a little creativity there are many vegetables that can continue growing right through winter.  I find this fun as wells of a rewarding challenge bringing in some great produce from my garden all year round.

Choosing your winter vegetables

First we need to determine what vegetables to grow, given temperature and lack of light will be a reality we will have to go with the colder tolerate spring/fall options.  below are some of my favorites and their typical hardy temperatures.

Arugula: Hardy up to 15F (-9C).  Not only is this the most profitable vegetable to grow per square foot it is a tasty and nutritious addition to your garden salads a very good source of vitamin A/C/K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.

Beets: Hardy up to 20F (-7C).  With beets you have a couple of options, eat the roots which are an excellent source of folate, potassium and manganese.  The other option is to eats the beet greens which are an excellent source of vitamin A/C/E/K/B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese

Bok choy: Hardy up to 24F (-4C).  Bok choy is a great source of vitamin A/C/K/B6, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese.

Broccoli: Hardy up to 10F (-12C).  So many options here and great eat fresh and if you get too much at once it is easy to freeze your excess crops while being a great source of Vitamin A/C/K/B6, folate, potassium and manganese.

Brussels Sprouts: Hardy up to 0F (-16C).  If the thought of Brussels sprouts sicken you, don’t give up on these until you try some fresh from your garden.  As an added bonus this is a great source of vitamin A/C/K/B6, thiamin, folate, potassium and manganese.

Cabbage (Winter): Hardy up to 5F (-14C).  Use for raw for coleslaws or cooked in stews or soups to add some vitamin C, folate, potassium and manganese to your next meal.

Carrots: Hardy up to 15F (-9C).  Great in salads, stir-fry, or raw as a quick snack and is also a great source of Vitamin A/C/K and potassium

Collards: Hardy up to 24F (-4C).  Great sautéed with a little oil with salt and pepper and a great source of vitamin A/C/E/K/B6, riboflavin, folate, calcium and manganese.

Endive: Hardy up to 5F (-15C).  Great addition to salads as well as making or a great addition to sounds.  Endive is high in vitamin A/C/K, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.

Kale: Hardy up to 8F (-13C).  Sauté as a great side or even bake to make some delicious Kale chips and is high in vitamin A/C/K/B6, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese.

Kohlrabi: Hardy up to 15F (-9C).   The taste and texture of kohlrabi are similar to those of a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter, with a higher ratio of flesh to skin. The young stem in particular can be as crisp and juicy as an apple, although much less sweet1.   Kohlrabi is a great source of vitamin C/B6, potassium, copper and manganese

Garlic: Hardy up to 8F (-13C).  One of the most useful aromatics to use in your kitchen and high in vitamin C/B6 and Manganese.

Leeks: Hardy up to 8F (-13C).  Great additions/bases for many soups and stocks.  Has flavor of onion though not quite as overpowering.  It is also a great source of vitamin A/C/K, folate and manganese.

Lettuce: Hardy up to 24F (-4C).  Staple for a quick winter salad.  Choose varieties with darker leaves for more nutritious goodness of vitamin A/C/K, thiamin, folate, iron, potassium and manganese.

Onions (Bulb): Hardy up to 0F (-18C).  Plant these out this fall/winter for some nice large bulbs next spring summer.  These provide a great deal of versatility and vitamin B6, folate, potassium and manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin C.

Onions (Bunching): Hardy up to 10F (-12C).  Plant a bunch of these and your garden and they will continue to spread and provide additional produce to your kitchen.  With just a little bit of protection you can have onions all winter.

Peas: Hardy up to 35F (2C).  Can be shelled and cooked and eaten as is or added to some nice soups in the wintertime or kept in the shells and eat raw or a great addition to a nice stir-fry.  Peas also provide vitamin A/C/K, thiamin, folate, iron and manganese.

Spinach: Hardy up to 8F (-13C).  Just recently got turned back to eating spinach, previously just used in an occasional salad but now I add to omelets every morning for some great taste but are also packed with nutritional potency being a very good source of protein, vitamin A/C/E/K/B6, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.

Swiss Chard: Hardy up to 20F (-7C).   Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

When can you actually grow these vegetables

Now that found the vegetables you want to grow now is a good time to check those hardy temperatures of the vegetables you have chosen compared to your average winter temperatures.  If your average low for the day is going to fall at or below that limit you may want to consider skipping that one or invest in a little protection.

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Using a site like WeatherSpark, you can determine what your average low is for your area and then determine what vegetables you can grow during the winter.  As you can see above on average in my area the average low is 36F which allows me to grow most of the cold season vegetables mentioned above.  Though it is possible to get an occasional cold streak which cold mean death to my vegetables over the winter.

By using some row covers you can provide a little extra temperature (5-10F) depending on the thickness of the plastic and the volume of air you are attempting to keep warm.  The thicker the plastic the better the temperature retention though allows less light to get through.  For my area I am going with 2.5mm which should provide some decent protection while still allowing needed light in.  When things really go bad you can also supplement with a light blanket at night and/or a couple strings of regular old Christmas lights (no LEDs for this application) to provide a few more degrees.

How to start your vegetables

Though your plants may grow well in the low temperatures germination can be incredibly slow at lower temperatures even for cold weather plants.  For this reason you should start your vegetables indoors and bring them outdoors with some minimal hardening off.

As a general rule here are the plants you should be able to start as seeds in the ground now (September):

  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Onions (sets for green onions, seeds for spring onions)
  • Radishes
  • Spinach

Other plants should be started indoors and planted out as starts.  These can be brought out right now so check you local grocery store…this time of year I have found 4-packs of winter vegetable starts as low as $0.25 as the stores are making room for the Halloween pumpkins coming in.  Since you will want a continuous harvest you can also start seeds now and every few weeks for a constant supply of winter vegetables all winter long.

Summing things up

By taking maturing and harvest time into account and creating continual planting you should supply yourself with delicious and nutritious selection of vegetables all winter long.  I was going to go into what I am growing this year…but this post is already getting long so will write about that later…

10 Responses to “How to start a winter vegetable garden”

  1. meemsnyc Says:

    This is such an excellent post! Thanks for listing out the veggies that are hardy! I’ll try growing these!


  2. Danny Says:

    Do you have sowing/planting dates for these?


  3. Matt Says:

    How do you deal with snow?


  4. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Danny, good question…I added some more details to the post.


  5. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Matt, for me hard rains are a bigger concern in my area, fortunately the solution for both of these are the same. By adding a row covers this not only helps hold in heat but also protects from weight of snow (assuming you brush it off ever couple days, impact from light hail, oversaturation from hard rains, and protection from heavy winds.


  6. plantingoaks Says:

    I’m curious where you get the 8F number for garlic. We grow it outside here where winters typically dive below zero for several weeks every year. Of course, it tends to be mostly dormant at that time, as our schedule is plant in October, harvest in July. Normally there are just a few green leaves sprouted above ground through the worst of winter.

    Are you suggesting it would be actively growing and harvestable at only slightly warmer temperatures?

    Otherwise, be encouraged, garlic can take the cold! It’s an incredibly easy and unfussy plant.


  7. What I am growing in my winter garden Says:

    [...] I normally get burned out over the spring/fall and don’t do much for the fall/winter season.  This year I decided I want to have a nice selection of winter veggies so I am going all out and start my winter garden. [...]


  8. Sarah Says:

    I just stumbled across your post while looking for information on floating row covers. Great information all in one place and easy to find…I share it on my blog, hope you dont mind!

    -=Sarah


  9. Trevor Says:

    It’s winter here in Australia now, some great ideas in this article


  10. Joann Says:

    Luv luv this site, ty for sharing


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