Some vegetable varieties thrive in the cool conditions of fall and early winter, and offered a bit of protection from extreme cold, they can be harvested right through until spring. The best winter gardening varieties actually improve in flavour, texture, and sweetness once the cold weather arrives.
As we would start many vegetables in late winter and early spring for summer harvests, winter gardening requires sowing seeds in mid- to late summer. This allows the plants to gain a little growth before the days begin to get shorter and the sunlight becomes less intense. The secret is choosing the right vegetables and thinking ahead.
Varieties for winter harvest:
Arugula: Sow from June to the end of August for harvests in fall, winter, and spring. High in Vitamin A and potassium, with a tangy, nutty flavour. Winter-grown arugula has a very different, milder flavour than the same plant grown in hot weather. Sow densely in rows 4 inches apart. Use crop protection for a longer harvest.
Beets: Sow beets every three weeks from early spring to the end of July. Late sown beets can be harvested as beetroot or leafy greens from fall to winter. All beets have cold-hardiness, but Red Ace and Winterkeeper are particularly suited to winter gardening. Use crop protection for a longer harvest.
Broccoli: Sow some indoors in midsummer to transplant out before the end of August, and harvest in fall and early winter. Raab varieties can be harvested quite late without protection.
Brussels sprouts: Sow indoors in early June, and transplant seedlings outside in early August. These can be harvested over the winter and into spring. Frost adds to the sweetness of the edible buds.
Cabbage: Sow winter varieties in June and July to harvest in fall and winter – try Danish Ballhead and Embassy.
Carrots: Sow every three weeks from early spring to around July 7 for mature winter carrots, and sow again in the first two weeks of August for winter harvests. Carrots become very sweet in the cold, and all varieties are suited to winter gardening, or – try Bolero and Scarlet Nantes for the best hardiness. Use crop protection for a longer harvest.
Cilantro: Sow this tangy herb every three weeks right up to the end of August, and harvest young plants in fall and winter. Cilantro grows best in cold weather, and tends to bolt in heat. Grown under cover, it should survive all winter.
Collards: Sow this under-exploited, cold-hardy, leafy vegetable to the middle of July, and harvest from fall to spring for steamed greens and stir-fries. Collards can grow without any protection.
Corn salad: Sometimes called Mâche, this is the hardiest winter salad green, and can be sown as late as mid-September for harvests right into spring. Use the leaves as you would lettuce – the mild, nutty taste makes a fine background for stronger flavours from arugula, scallions, and other winter vegetables. Use crop protection for a longer harvest.
Endive & Radicchio: Sow from late June to early August, and add great texture and colour to salads from early fall right through winter. Endives can be sown as late as mid-September. Use crop protection for a longer harvest.
Kale: Sow this workhorse of a vegetable until mid-July for fall and winter harvests. All varieties grow sweeter after frost and can be grown without cover. Kale has the highest levels of beta-carotene of any vegetable and is also rich in Vitamin C and calcium.
Kohlrabi: Sow from late July to mid-August, and harvest in the fall and winter. The variety called Superschmeltz can be harvested right through until April. The swollen stems of kohlrabi contain high levels of Vitamin C, and grow sweeter after frost. No winter protection is required.
Leeks: Sow the Dutch variety Bandit from March to the end of June to harvest as late as April the following spring. Harvest any time once the stems are over 1 inch thick – great in soups, stews, and gravies.
Lettuce: With protection, all lettuces can be grown over winter, but varieties like Winter Density, Cimmaron, and Rouge d’Hiver are particularly hardy. Sow every three weeks from March to September, but provide frost protection beneath heavy row cover or a cloche greenhouse. Surprise your friends with fresh salads at holiday dinners!
Mibuna, Mizuna, & Komatsuna: Sow these tasty Asian greens to the end of August or early September for harvests in fall to late winter. These are very hardy plants, and may survive without winter protection. Great in salads and stir-fries.
Parsley: Sow to the end of July, and parsley will produce all winter with a bit of crop protection. It is rich in both Vitamin C and iron. The conventional curly variety, Forest Green, may do better than the flat leaf Italian over winter.
Parsnips: Sow to mid-July and treat like carrots once the cold weather arrives. Parsnips are sweeter after frost, and hold particularly well in the ground. Try mulching with a bit of straw to keep hard frosts from damaging the plants in late winter.
Rutabagas: Sow mid-June to late July and harvest these cold hardy “winter turnips” from fall through spring. No protection is needed!
Scallions: Call them what you will – spring onions, salad onions, green onions – these can be sown indoors in early spring and direct sown from March right to early August outdoors. Late sown scallions will be ready for harvest right through to the following spring. Use crop protection for a longer harvest.
Sorrel: Sow this perennial from May to June, and harvest the lemony leaves at 4 to 6 inches long. Expect sorrel to bolt in hot weather, but it keeps growing and growing all year. With some minor protection, leaves can be picked all winter long – they will re-grow. Once established, sorrel is easy to propagate by division.
Spinach: Treat all varieties as a salad crop beneath cloche tunnels from first to last frost. Sow freely right to the end of October. Spinach thrives in cold weather, but requires some protection.
Swiss Chard: Sow until late July, and enjoy the leaves and stems of this colourful plant until mid-winter. Chard is full of iron, calcium, Vitamin C, and beta-carotene. Younger plants may benefit from some crop protection.
Turnips: Sow from spring to the end of August for a succession of harvests from fall through spring. Grown under cover, the greens are a delightful winter treat, but the roots hold well in cold soil with no protection.
Varieties to try for late fall harvest:
Broccoli – set out transplants in mid-August.
Cauliflower – set out transplants in early August.
Peas – direct sow in early July for a fall harvest.
Radish – some varieties handle cold very well and can be harvested well after first frost.
Overwintering varieties for spring/summer harvest:
Broad beans – sow in October/November for summer eating.
Broccoli, sprouting – set out transplants by mid-August for early/mid-spring harvests.
Cabbage – choose overwintering varieties for spring harvests.
Garlic – plant bulbs in September and October for masses of fresh garlic the following July.
Onions – overwintering varieties need no protection and will be ready to harvest in June from direct sowing the previous August.