Winter gardening

let it snowI’ve just finished reading a great book on winter gardening(thanks Brynn!)by Eliot Coleman.  The basic premise is this: most of the United States is south of the 44th parallel.  If you were to look at where this is you’ll see that the majority of Europe is further north than we are in the U.S.  But in Europe gardening doesn’t stop in winter-it’s traditionally carried right on through.  Yet in the U.S., at least in the more difficult to grow climates(zone 6 and below), it’s our tradition to close the gardens down in the winter.  Why fight the weather?  In this book the author lists between 20 and 30 vegetables and produce items that can easily be grown in cold weather.  In fact, the things that he’s grown only do well in cold temperatures.  In France, unheated greenhouses are used to grow all of these items because it keeps the wind off the plants and can add another 10-15 degrees to the outside temperature and maybe even more.  It was a fascinating read.  What he does is plant in late October(Maine-zone5).  By the time everything grows and it’s time to start harvesting he and his wife are able to eat all winter long right out of the garden.  The key was to have it planted before the harsh weather hits.  He uses winter to harvest, not to plant.  He also takes time to discuss building a cold frame and low tunnels.  By using these you get the equivalent of moving up 1 to 1 1/2 zones.  So if your typically in zone 5 and protect your gardens with low/high tunnels, you just became the equivalent of zone 6 to 6 1/2.  This changes things significantly.  I got to thinking-I’ve got low tunnels and cold frames that I’ve used for years.  Mine aren’t nearly as expensive as Elliot’s but they accomplish the same thing.  So I’m starting right now.  I’ve got the tunnels on my two main square foot garden beds.  In a few days my garden should be ready to start planting.  I’ll be planting in winter vs. harvesting in winter which might be different.  This is the earliest I’ve ever started and I’m anxious to see how the experiment turns out.  Can you imagine over 20 different things to harvest in the months of December through March in most of these colder zones?  Wow.  I’m going to be doing that next year too.

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