Winter in the Vegetable Garden – Cold Weather Tasks and Projects for the Organic Gardener

Winter in the organic vegetable garden is a time of reflection and rest, but you can also engage in limited planting and extensive planning.

Planting and Pruning

If you live in zone 6 or greater, you can grow some cold hardy vegetables in your winter organic vegetable garden. Although broccoli and brussel sprouts tolerate some frost, these vegetables grow too large to fit into most cold frames. If your area receives temperatures below 28 degrees F, grow compact winter hardy vegetables like spinach, cabbage, kale, leeks, and parsnips in a cold frame. Warm weather causes these vegetables to bolt or become bitter, while frost brings out their natural sweetness. If you are in the midst of late winter, start seeds of these vegetables indoors to transplant after the ground thaws.

If the ground hasn’t frozen in your area, you still have time to plant garlic bulbs. The bulbs will continue to develop extensive roots throughout the winter, giving you larger bulbs to harvest next summer.

Prune fruit trees in late winter, just before the buds start to swell. You can also prune your blackberries, raspberries, and grapes at this time.

Storing

With luck, you had a bumper crop of long-storing vegetables to provide fresh organic produce for your table throughout the winter. Store your sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkins in a cool, dry location. If your fall harvest included organic apples, store these separately so the ethylene gas emitted by the apples doesn’t hasten the ripening of adjacent crops. Apples prefer a slightly more humid environment than squashes and root vegetables, so the refrigerator is an ideal storage area if you don’t have a large harvest. Check all produce in storage frequently and discard any that show signs of decay.

Protecting

You must mulch your perennial vegetables and small fruits to provide protection and to prevent frost heaves from exposing vulnerable feeder roots close to the soil’s surface. Apply a 2-inch layer of straw or compost around your asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries. Don’t apply the mulch right up to the crowns of the plants, or you might encourage nibbling rodents to take refuge in your garden.

Planning and Preparing

Walk around your vegetable garden, toting your garden journal to reminisce about the highlights and lowlights of the past garden year. If your journal included sketches of the crop layout, make a new sketch that incorporates crop rotation as a pest and disease deterrent. Include some flowers in next spring’s vegetable garden plan to attract beneficial insects, like parasitic wasps and hover flies. Peruse the garden catalogs that begin to arrive in droves after the holidays wind down, and succumb to the gardener’s equivalent of letting the eyes be bigger than the stomach: order one seed packet too many, and find a home for a new variety in a container or vacant sunny patch of the garden.

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