What? A winter garden? But I don’t have a greenhouse, and even if I did, it would be too expensive to heat, and besides, hothouse tomatoes taste like cardboard, and anyway we can just buy produce shipped in from South America.
Enough excuses. A winter garden – more accurately a winter harvest – provides you with locally grown (in your back yard!), fresh, seasonally appropriate produce throughout the late fall, winter, and early spring. How? Isn’t it too cold and aren’t the days too short? Not necessarily. By choosing crops which tolerate or even thrive in cooler weather, by planting early in the fall so they can do most of their growing while sunlight is abundant, and by sheltering them from direct exposure to cold winds using a cold frame or hoop house, you can enjoy the fruits – or at least the vegetables – of your labor even during the dreariest part of the year.
In southern Indiana, we actually get as much winter sunlight as they do in southern Portugal and Spain and the tip of the boot of Italy, areas that are the “Florida” of Europe! Even Maine gets as much sun as the south of France.
This year, the Garden Center plans to carry ready-made cold frames as well as materials for building simple low hoop houses. These keep the temperature inside warm enough to prevent damage to your cold-weather crops. What can we grow? Ok, not okra or zucchini, but how about beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, endive, kale, kohl rabi, lettuce, mache, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips? Unlike other garden centers, we still have both seeds and starts. To guide you, the East Garden Center has a free handout showing when various crops should be planted in spring and fall in our part of the state.
For more information on outdoor gardening in winter, be sure to check out Eliot Coleman’s books, Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook. Also, be sure to visit www.fourseasonharvest.com.
What if you don’t have room for an outdoor winter garden, or you’re more interested in growing herbs on your kitchen counter like you see on the cooking shows on TV? The Garden Center will be carrying the equipment and seeds you need to make it happen. We still have potted rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, basil, and several kinds of mint.
If you really have your mind set on growing your own tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, or just about anything else, we also carry a full line of hydroponic systems, liquid fertilizers, and grow lights. Stop by the East Garden Center Patio Room to see our demonstration hydroponic garden.
Do you need just a plant or two to cozy up your dorm room or apartment? We have a generous selection of indoor and low-light houseplants, such as amazingly decorative and medicinal aloes, jade plants, hen-and-chicks, venus fly-traps, gigantic elephant ear alocasias, and plants that will even clean the indoor air, such as peace lilies, spider plants, and ferns. Remember, too, that many so-called annuals (stunningly colored foliage coleus and angel wing begonias) can be wintered over indoors and will last for several years. We also have gorgeous tropical plumbago, hibiscus, mandevilla, and bougainvillea.
Even though your summer bounty is in full swing and the weather is starting to cool off, remember that now is the time to plan ahead for your four season harvest. Whatever your plant needs, stop by the Garden Center and chat with our staff who have decades of gardening experience.
Written by Chris Bobbitt
Bloomingfoods Garden Center