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Year-round Food Gardening: Tips for Cold Weather Cultivation

Photo: M. Schweisguth

Once fall comes into full force and edges toward winter, we often see this as end of the produce growing season. However, in Southern Oregon, and many climates, we can cultivate food year round. We just need to do a little digging to learn what can weather the winter, and how to protect plants and soil from the elements. Several crops can be plated in the fall or late winter for harvest through the winter or early spring. Others are traditionally planted in the fall and mature later in the spring.

At Standing Stone Brewing Co, we’ve been doing a bit of research to help us expand our rooftop garden into a year-round source of fresh ingredients for our restaurant.

To help get more folks into the fulfilling, sustainable fun of four-season gardening, we thought we’d share some of what we’ve learned. While it’s a bit late to plant all but a few roots and bulbs for the fall, you can start planning to get an early start on your 2012 garden.

Choosing Crops

Lots of well-loved veggies can take the cold, including beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, chard, collards, kale, parsley, parsnips and scallions. Garlic and fava beans are generally planted in mid- to late-fall and mature in spring. Don’t forget perennial crops like sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), which sustain themselves year after year. To determine what will work where you are, look for localized gardening calendars and information, check seed packets and plant tags, or ask seed providers for temperature ranges needed for germination, growth and survival.

Raise the Temperature

Reuse old windows and doors, laid on bricks or a wooden frame, to make a cold frame. Cover rows with home-size tunnels from a garden supply store, or make some from reused plastic sheeting or pallet wrap on a frame of bamboo or flexible branches. Those with more space and extra cash might consider a small greenhouse. We’ve built a cold frame for our rooftop garden and are devising a way to route heat from our waste heat recovery system to our garden to warm it in winter.

Protect Plants

Pallet wrap garden cover (photo: M. Schweisguth)

Cover plants that aren’t in a cold frame or other shelter when nighttime temperatures are predicted to get close to or below the lowest temperature at which they can survive. Reused large plastic bags and pallet wrap work well. Gardening stores sell various plant coverings, too. Put leaves, reused plastic sheeting or seasonal row cover over the tops of root vegetables to keep them alive during hard frosts and snow, then uncover during the day to promote growth.

 Safeguard Your Soil

Mulch around plants to keep soil from freezing. Mulch or cover unused garden beds to prevent soil compaction from heavy rain, sleet and snow, too.

Grow Indoors

Small plants like herbs and greens can thrive indoor in pots, and you won’t need to brave the elements to harvest them. Turn sunny windows into winter gardens, and delight in the flavor, clean air and ambience this provides.

Happy gardening!

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