A Peek at my Winter Garden

This is my first time growing edibles in the winter. The concept was new to me until fairly recently, even though I grew up in California where my family easily could have extended our vegetable garden into the winter months.

I admit the winter garden isn't much to look at. The vegetable bed essentially looks bare. But it's been so nice to have garden fresh produce to eat over the past few months. Note that I do live in an area where the average low temperature is in the low 30s. If you live in an area where winters are more harsh, you can still keep a winter garden; you just might need row covers for some plants.

Most noticeable in the garden are Brussels spouts. We have 5 plants. Three are normal-sized while two are what one of my husband's friends calls "old growth Brussels sprouts; these are 3 1/2 feet tall and look bigger and more robust than the others. How did they end up so big? I think it's because I gave them more room to grow, because in every other way they have the same growing conditions.

I started these Brussels spouts last spring and we had a terrible time with aphids. Because it's impossible to remove aphids from the tight, cabbage-like sprouts heads, we didn't eat many this summer. I'm glad I didn't pull the plants out, however, because now the aphids are dead and new sprouts have grown. (In 2011, I think I may try starting Brussels sprouts in the summer and planting them only in the winter garden.)

Brussels sprouts, along with parsnips and carrots, sweeten after a good frost. We eat them steamed, roasted, or in a stew. The frilly crowns of the Brussels sprouts plant are also edible; I pinched them off and put them in our Christmas Eve stew. They were delicious! More tender and sweet than your average Brussels sprouts.

Next, you might notice some wilted green and yellow stalks in the garden. These are the parsnips. In areas without harsh winters, they can stay in the ground all winter long; I pull them as I want them and they make a nice addition to stews, soups, and roasts. The downside of growing parsnips is they take a while to mature. I started mine from seed last spring, and they weren't mature until fall. Still, they offer nice variety in the winter months.

I also have some carrots in the ground, although most of their leaves died off in the snow. I have one that's popped up from the soil and been damaged by the cold (pictured to the right), but most are safely tucked away in the earth. Even if your winters are harsh, you can keep carrots in the soil all winter long by covering them with a thick layer of straw. Then, like me, you can pull them as you want them for a sweet winter treat.

You'll also see some small green leaves in my vegetable bed. They are collards, planted in August. I was hoping for a vigorous crop, as I had all spring and summer, but they really slowed down in the fall. So far, we haven't been able to eat any from this crop. Since we love collards, I may try putting them under a row cover next year.

If you look closely, you may also see some tiny red leaves poking up from the soil. These are beets. The cold weather killed off most of the leaves, but, like the carrots, the roots are still growing.

In addition, I have cabbage growing in the same planter I grew them in last spring and summer. I was late getting them planted; they didn't go in until early November, I think, so they are pretty small. But I expect, come spring, we'll have mature cabbage to eat. The only problem I had with cabbage last year were the slugs and snails. They didn't destroy the cabbages, but they sure made them look unattractive. This fall, I bought copper tape and my hubby laid it down across the edges of the planter. So far, this has worked wonderfully. (Copper gives slugs and snails an uncomfortable shock.) Once the cabbage gets large and the leaves tumble over the sides of the planter, however, it may not work as well.

I also have a few garlic plants growing, as well as three kohlrabi plants. In the garden bed, the sole kohlrabi's leaves are nearly gone - eaten by slugs and snails. In the pots on my porch, however, they are doing better.

All in all, I consider my winter garden a reasonable success. Next winter, I'd like to add some leeks (for onion flavor all winter long) and Jerusalem artichokes.

Do you have a winter garden? How's it growing?


  1. I started sowing my indoor winter garden a couple days ago. A few cabbage and lots of chives. Can't wait to start planting outdoors!

  2. Loretta, are they for a spring garden? Or will you plant something else in the spring?

  3. I don't have a winter garden... a few winters ago I had a planter with a collard plant in it. I love collards, beets, Brussels sprout and all the other yummy food you got in your garden.

    I called everyone at my house to see your Brussels sprouts. We eat them, but we had no idea what they looked like in the actual plant. How cool!!! the kids loved it. :)

    thanks for sharing.

  4. I think that's a pretty impressive winter garden! I'm still trying to master a summer garden,but I hope to continue extending into the late fall and winter someday.

  5. Tereza, they are kind of funny looking; the leaves yellow and fall off as the sprouts mature. Teekaroo, good luck with your summer garden!

  6. Yes, the cabbage and chives are for the spring garden, and yes, we will have tons of other veggies, too! I tried experimenting with garlic last year, and I'm a bit confused on how to care for them. Some directions said to let them "over winter." I assume this meant to leave them planted during the winter months. I expect them to be harvested this summer.

  7. Loretta, I had the same confusion last summer. What I discovered is that if I plant garlic in the spring, I *can* harvest it in the fall, but it may not be very large. I went ahead and harvested it, anyway, then immediately planted a few cloves. Those cloves started sprouting about a month or so ago.