How to grow a winter garden without raising the heating bill
By Michael Leach
Wearin’ o’ the green is one thing. I prefer eating greens, especially those fresh from the garden. With floating row cover, and a bit of Irish luck, this is doable on St. Patrick’s Day and weeks before — even in the Midwest.
By chance I discovered floating row cover does more than keep cabbage butterflies away from the kale, collards, turnips and other cold tolerant greens. I plant these in late summer for a fall, winter and spring harvest. This lightweight agricultural fabric helps the plants resist winter weather, apparently by offering some wind protection. Even without row covers, kale and collards have grown well into December in some years.
While Debra was gathering rosemary during our spate of Zone 7 winters in our Zone 6 world, I harvested small amounts of greens almost weekly. Dim winter days slowed production to mere bragging rights over a few leaves in darkest December and January.
But by the end of February, the combination of warmer readings and longer days triggered new leaves and harvests two or three times a week.
This year things are different, due to one of the coldest winters in a generation. The lush, venerable greens, planted last spring, died despite the row cover. A cursory check shows little hope of new life arising from the roots.
The younger plants of late summer provided the season’s first small harvest of greens — just in time for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That’s no Blarney. Seasoned with a bit of butter, sea salt, pepper and bragging rights they were awesome.
(For inspiration on growing your own winter garden, check out Eliot Coleman’s books based on his experience of year-round vegetable gardening in Maine without heated greenhouses. Visit his website.)