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Gardening In Winter In A Cold Climate

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Gardening in winter in a cold climate outdoors is possible if you are willing to grow cool weather crops and protect those crops with frost cover, cold frames or a similar structure.

It is a cold, snowy 16 degrees F here today however it is January 1 and I am harvesting and planting vegetables in my Indiana garden.

Below I share my tips on how I harvest and plant all year long.


Gardening In Winter In A High Tunnel

My little unheated high tunnel is not in a protected area.

Behind it are the towers of the city water company however we get really strong crosswinds because of their open field being right across the street.

Last fall I planted some Wakefield Cabbage in there as well as some lettuce, spinach, snow peas and radish seed.

The lettuce and spinach seed did not germinate for some reason, but the radish seed germinated and grew just fine.

On January 1, I harvested fresh radish from inside the high tunnel.

Adding Additional Layers Of Protection

I did use frost cover inside of the high tunnel but I did not get the bottoms and ends secured to the ground.

If I had done that plus put an extra layer of 6 mil. plastic over the top of the frost cover, I am sure the harvest would have been better.

Some of the smaller radish were frozen and soft, so I put those in the compost pile.

The cabbages faired pretty well, although I suspect they will bolt come spring, however that is ok because I will let them set seed so I can save it to plant later this summer when I start the plants for my fall and winter garden.

The best thing about saving the seed is it is adapted to my climate which means the plants grown from it are going to do better in my garden.

One huge mistake I made was closing the high tunnel up too early last fall which meant the inside was much warmer than what cool crops like it.

I was in a hurry and not really thinking about venting it on warm days.

That caused some plants to bolt early because it was much too warm inside the plastic.

Working In The Winter Garden Care

After harvesting the radishes and pulling up any tiny weeds that were trying to sprout, I used my handy circle hoe to work the top of the ground.

The soil was quite dry and easy to work which is always nice.

The next thing I did was water the raised beds.

I did not drench the soil, I just gave it a gentle watering with a watering can.

The top half inch or so of the soil needs to be damp enough that the seeds begin to germinate.

In another couple of days, I will go back out and give the soil another sprinkling of water.

It is important to make sure the soil stays moist anytime you are trying to germinate seeds.

The established plants need enough moisture to thrive, but not so much that they end up water logged.

Learning exactly how often to water and how much water to apply is essential to winter gardening success.

My rule of thumb is to apply just enough water to wet the top inch or so of soil and not to water again until that soil begins to look – and feel – dry.

What To Grow When Gardening In Winter

This year I made two beds inside this high tunnel.

One is half filled with cabbage and the other half of that bed is where the radish are.

I left one bed unplanted.

I chose seeds from Renee’s Garden to plant in that bed.

I planted Romeo Round Baby Carrots and Asian Baby Leaf Gourmet Mesclun Salad.

Both of these should do fine.

Here are a few other vegetables that should overwinter just fine inside a cold frame or high tunnel.

  • salad greens
  • spinach
  • kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Brussels sprouts
  • radishes
  • potatoes

I do not expect the seeds will germinate immediately, but once the weather outside begins to warm up the inside of the high tunnel is going to get warm enough to encourage the seeds to sprout.

This means I am going to be harvesting these crops several weeks before it is warm enough to plant these same crops outside without protection.

Additional Information

I am located in Indiana, which is USDA Hardiness Zone 5/6.

With a little protection is is possible to have a year-round garden, even in a cold climate.

Gardening during the winter months has many advantages such as no pests plus the ability to harvest fresh cool season crops from your own garden instead of buying them at the store and paying a premium price.

Want know more?

Then check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Year-Round Gardening by Sheri Ann Richerson and Delilah Smittle.

Planting Your Garden


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