In the Garden:
Seeds of my baby bok choy were sown in November and now are ready for a midwinter harvest.
Sowing Seeds of Optimism
I've learned through trial and error I can coax my garden into producing edible vegetables literally nine months of the year. It takes some planning and some labor, but by continually sowing seeds and maintaining the garden, I can be rewarded with crisp and crunchy greens all winter long. Growing in winter is actually a little easier than growing in summer since the need for watering, fertilizing, and pest control is minimal.
Cloches and Cold Frames
I extend the growing season by protecting plants from cold weather. Some of the devices I use to help keep plants growing are cloches (hotcaps) and cold frames. Cloches enclose individual plants; cold frames are more efficient, protecting multiple plants. My cold frame is a 3x4-foot wood frame box with the back cut higher than the front. This creates a sloped top that captures sunlight and allows rain to run off. The top is a removable frame covered with polyethylene plastic film.
A sunny, well-drained location protected from the wind is ideal for a permanent cold frame. However, I like to move mine around the garden, setting it over groups of plants that need protection. I dig a shallow trench and then bank soil up around the sides to secure the cold frame each time I move it. Heat for the frame comes from the sun, and during the night the cover retains enough heat to protect the plants. I raise the cover of the frame occasionally during sunny days to reduce the temperature inside and to provide ventilation. Humidity can build up quickly within the frame, and without good air circulation, diseases such as damping off, mold, and botrytis can suddenly destroy plants.
Cooler temperatures mean plants will grow more slowly than during their normal growing season. That means harvesting when the plants are still small. Leaf lettuces are perfect for this type of growing. I just snip a few of the outer leaves on each plant when I need them, allowing the remaining leaves to continue to grow.
This year I'm growing bok choy for the first time. It's a member of the cabbage family and can be used like cabbage, but the flavor is milder and slightly sweet, with just a gentle hint of cabbage taste. The stalks are juicy and tender enough to eat raw.
Other Green Options
A mesclun mix is a natural for cold-frame growing during the winter months. The lettuce and other greens in this mix tend to be cold hardy and can be harvested when small. Kale, pak choy, and parsley are also cold tolerant and easy to grow. A few leaves or sprigs of these greens really liven up a winter salad.
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