One of the best ways to reap the most from a small-space food garden is to have something growing in your garden all year round. Don’t let plots or containers sit vacant after you harvest your tomatoes and squash! Make ’em work by planting a winter garden (or let them rest and recuperate by sowing a cover crop). Whatever you do, don’t let them sit empty.
What is winter gardening?
Planting hardy and fast-maturing crops in summer or early fall for fall-through-spring harvesting is often known as winter gardening. (It also has a close cousin, overwintering, which is defined as planting in summer for harvest the next spring.)
For both, you’ll want to start now. (Actually, you might want to have started a month or more ago, but if you’re anything like me, you’re just getting around to it. Good news: there’s still time to sow many winter crops.)
In general, you’ll want to plant quick-maturing, cool-season crops that are tolerant of frosts. The aim is to have your plants reach almost full-size by Halloween. That’s when, due to dwindling daylight hours, plants pretty much stop their growth. They’ll stay in hibernation mode until the days start to lengthen again in early spring (unless you eat them first!).
Perhaps surprisingly, there are quite a few edibles you can start from seed now.
Great winter-garden edibles to start from seed in August
Arugula. A fabulous, peppery cool-season green that adds zing to salads. (I especially love it stirred into pasta, though. Just cook up some orzo or capellini, and toss in a few handfuls of arugula after draining. Add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Toss until the arugula is wilted. Simple, and lovely.) Direct sow through to early September. Use crop protection, such as a cold frame or row covers, for a longer harvest. (While frost tolerant, arugula can get a little battered-looking after a winter of heavy rain.)
Asian and mustard greens. Sow these hardy, versatile greens—including komatsuna, mibuna, mizuna, komatsuna, and the many mustards that fall under Brassica juncea—until the end of September.
Broad beans. Broad beans, also known as fava beans, are an oddity amongst their peers. While snap, pole, and soy beans are warm-season staples, broad beans are super hardy. Plant in September or October for spring harvest.
Broccoli raab. It’s a little late to start regular (full-head-size) broccoli from seed (though feel free to transplant starts into the garden now if you started them indoors last month, or are lucky enough to find some at your local nursery) but broccoli raab, or rapini, matures more quickly, so squeeze in a late sowing before the end of August.
Carrots. They’re often thought of as a summer crop, but carrots are actually one of the hardiest garden vegetables. It’s almost too late to sow now (ideally, a winter sowing should occur in the first two weeks of August) but go ahead, try your luck. Row covers or cold frames will sway success in your favour.
Cilantro. Super cold tolerant, cilantro can be direct sown until mid-September.
Green onions (scallions). Another very cold hardy crop, green onions will easily overwinter. Plant now through the end of August.
Corn salad (mache or lamb’s lettuce). Add this mild, nutty green to your repertoire for salad greens all year round. Corn salad is the hardiest salad green, and can be sown until mid-September.
Endive. Yet another hardy salad green, endive can be sown as late as mid-September.
Kohlrabi. Oddly beautiful kohlrabi gets sweeter after a frost. Ideally, it should have been sown by mid-August, so plant it today, and cross your fingers.
Lettuces. Many lettuces are tolerant of light frost and can be planted now for fall harvest, or use a row cover or cold frame for protection and harvest into winter and spring. Look for hardy varieties such as ‘Cimmaron,’ ‘Continuity,’ ‘Red Deer Tongue,’ ‘Rouge d’Hiver,’ ‘Valdor,’ ‘Winter Crop,’ or ‘Winter Density.’
Spinach. Spinach thrives in cool weather. Plant it now through November (though you might want to use a cold frame or row cover as we move into winter if you live in a cold climate).
Turnips. Sow until the end of August for harvests all winter long. You can also eat the greens.
Winter-garden edibles to transplant in August
If you planned ahead, you’ll have started hardy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and leeks indoors ages ago. You didn’t? Me neither. Thankfully, more and more nurseries are carrying vegetable starts (transplants) for fall and winter gardening. Here are some great choices for winter-garden edibles to transplant now. With the exception of chard, which is only marginally hardy, the following edibles can be grown all winter long (though they may benefit from protection from winter rains and frosts in very cold climates). Look for overwintering and hardy varieties of:
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
Finally, there’s garlic. For those of you who can’t bear the thought of planting a winter garden now, garlic should be planted in October or November—just about the time you’ll start pining for a day in the garden.