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The arrival of January also heralds the arrival of the ‘deep-freeze’ of winter, the period of plunging temperatures and frequent storms that will last for about six weeks. By now, most vegetable gardeners are curled up with the new 2015 seed catalogues awaiting spring thaw, but for me, the winter harvest is really just beginning.
In the garden, the majority of my 4- by 10-foot raised beds are covered with mini hoop tunnels or a deep layer of organic mulch, while the cold frames that shelter super sweet carrots or a medley of cold season greens are shut tight against the cold. While the majority of the planting and tending work was done in late summer and autumn, there are a few tasks to keep in mind for a winter garden:
- Keep cold frames and mini hoop tunnels free of snow. After each storm, I make a point of using a broom or plastic shovel to quickly remove snow from my structures. This will ensure maximum solar energy continues to reach the plants, but it also helps prevent damage to the tunnels and frames from the weight of heavy and accumulating snow. I have also found that it is in my own best interest to complete this chore as soon as possible, as the longer I wait, the more likely the snow will transform into ice, which is much more difficult to chip off a cold frame than a soft layer of snow.
- Practice speedy harvesting. I have to admit, it took me a few seasons before I really learned the tricks to successful winter harvesting. Rule #1 – speed is critical! After you’ve picked a bowl of veggies, don’t dawdle. Leaving your harvest sitting outside in freezing temperatures for more than a few minutes can cause your greens to wilt, so get them inside ASAP. Rule #2 – bring a dishcloth (preferable a clean one!). I often use ceramic or metal bowls to collect my veggies – whatever is close at hand – and these materials are unforgiving with the cold. Therefore, I line the bowl with a cotton dishcloth to protect the greens. After I’m done harvesting, I fold the top of the towel over the bowl to further insulate the just-picked veggies.
- Cold-season seeding. As late February rolls around and the day-length stretches to more than 10 hours, it’s time to fill in any empty spots in your winter devices with fresh seed. Opt for cold-tolerant vegetables like kale, spinach, arugula, scallions, chard, tatsoi, or mustards. With the increasing light, you’ll be harvesting these new plantings just as your neighbours are buying their spring seed packets.
What tasks are you still tackling in your veggie garden?