The Winter Garden
By: Tom Chatham
In the distant past people did not have the luxury of going to the grocery store during the winter and buying from a wide variety of fresh produce. The advent of refrigeration and a global delivery system made possible the year round purchase of fresh produce that we now enjoy. This just in time delivery system is one of the Achilles heels of modern living and most people have no backup should this supply disappear.
Fresh produce is more nutritious than canned goods and fresh greens top the list. If our supply system ever becomes unreliable or too expensive many people may have to go without fresh foods for extended durations. Many people raise vegetables during the warmer parts of the year but stop at that. They leave their gardens unused until the following year, wasting a potentially valuable resource.
A winter garden can provide you with many good foods during the colder times of the year and help reduce your food bill and reliance on outside sources for this necessary commodity. One of the advantages of a winter garden is the fact that you do not have to harvest and process the food until you need it. Canning food is an important way to insure a supply of food for your family but in desperate times canning supplies may be difficult to acquire or replace. In this situation you may need a fresh supply of food most of the year and a winter garden helps fill that need.
A winter garden extends the harvest for a few more months when food may be difficult to get. While things such as potatoes or apples may be harvested in the fall and be kept for several months many foods do not keep fresh for that long. A winter garden can supply you with fresh green vegetables throughout the winter and the cold hearty plants will keep fresh in the cold temperatures. It is a way to expand your food supply with the least amount of effort and resources.
Some plants you might want to consider are-
Turnips and turnip greens
Long keeper tomatoes
Some vegetables work better than others depending on your winter temperatures. Once you determine what will grow best in your latitude you can plan a winter garden to suit your needs. If you have some livestock this is also a good way to increase winter food for them as well.
July is a good time to acquire your seeds if you have not done so already. In many places it will be necessary to start your plants by the end of July to insure good growth before the first frost is upon you. As you harvest your garden in the late summer you should be preparing your beds for your winter garden. As space becomes available you can begin planting your winter vegetables. Some crops such as long keeper tomatoes and butternut squash will have to be harvested before the first frost but offer you a good storage vegetable for winter use. Long keeper tomatoes are harvested before frost and kept in a cool dark place while they slowly ripen over the next few months to provide a fresh tomato for home use during the colder months.
A good addition to your winter garden if space is available is winter wheat. Even a small plot about 20’ x 60’ will yield about a bushel of wheat in the spring and provide you with over 50 lbs of flour for bread making during the year. By utilizing your garden space the whole year you can greatly increase the amount of food you produce for your family and reduce the chances of a crop failure leaving you without sufficient food for the winter.
If you want to get your feet wet with a winter garden why not plant a few cabbage plants, some Brussel sprouts and a row of turnips this fall to learn what works best for you. Starting small and working up from there will eventually reward you with fresh foods throughout the year at a great savings and provide you with a food supply that you have control over regardless of the economic conditions or supply situation.