The Year-Round Veggie Gardener’s Top Picks for Winter

January 28, 2013

I met Niki Jabbour at this year’s Mother Earth News Fair and obtained a copy of her new book entitled “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.” It turns out that we have a lot in common when it comes to growing a fall vegetable garden, and share a similar strategy for gardening during the colder periods of the year.

Today’s post will highlight some of the tips and ideas that Niki shared during our conversation and several presentations that she made over the three days of the fair. If you haven’t experimented with extending the growing seasons then you’re missing out on a great opportunity to raise additional home grown veggies.

Introducing the Year-Round Vegetable Gardener

Niki JabbourNiki Jabbour hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia and I was surprised to discover that the climate was not as extreme as I expected there in her Zone 5B garden. Using a combination of hardy vegetable varieties and creative season extension devices, Niki is able to continue enjoying her garden well into the coldest months and can harvest fresh produce consistently throughout the winter.

She favors the winter garden as a low maintenance period with little work and a big return for the effort that you put into it. Then there’s the reward of harvesting sweeter tasting produce as winter’s cold turns the usual starches into sugars for your taste buds delight.

Vegetable Gardening Tips for Extending the Growing Season

Of course timing is critical for a successful fall garden and it may take a bit of experimentation in your specific growing region to get determine the ideal planting dates for various crops. Niki pointed out that it’s the day length that is the controlling factor for plant growth in the fall months, not the amount of cold that the plants are subject to.

During one lecture Niki outlined her favorite vegetables for cultivating during the fall and winter months, most of them made my list of favorites also but there were some different selections and she seems to lean more heavily on root crops where I favor choices in the cole crop family. Here’s a quick rundown of Niki’s picks:

Niki’s Top Veggie Varieties for the Fall and Winter Garden

Kale – One of the most versatile of all garden crops, Niki is especially fond of the Dinosaur Kale variety. She builds “kale cozys” out of a PVC frame covered with plastic for additional winter protection.

Collards – A close relative to kale, collards may not be quite as cold hardy but it is much more tolerant of heat and may even be a bit more productive in the long run.

Spinach – This popular leafy green is tasty and nutritious. The curled and savoy varieties are hardier than the smooth-leaved varieties.

Carrots – A root crop that will hold well right in the garden during winter, mulch it with a thick layer of straw or shredded leaves to make access easier as the ground temperatures drop.

Mache – One of the hardiest greens you can grow, mache is great for raising in cold frames and offers a mild lettuce like flavor for those winter salads.

Arugula – This leafy green is not as hardy as mache but arugula will also do well in a cold frame and provides a lot more flavor to offset some of the milder greens when mixed together.

Beets – This root vegetable really shines when it comes to extended storage, once lifted from the garden beets can keep for months in the fridge or root cellar.

Celery Root – Not as commonly cultivated in the home garden, celery makes a great substitute for regular celery stalks and is a lot easier to store or maintain over the long term.

Leeks – You won’t find a hardier vegetable in the allium family! Mature leeks can be left in the garden all winter and be harvested whenever the ground has thawed enough to lift them out.

Parsnips – These roots sweeten with exposure to cold weather. And there is no rush to harvest because parsnips will keep just fine in the ground even if left until the following spring.

Swiss Chard – Not as hardy as some of the other greens like kale and collards, Swiss Chard is also not as likely to survive the winter in cold climates but it is still a good choice for the fall garden.

Brussels Sprouts – This one can be more of a challenge to cultivate to maturity but Brussels Sprouts are very cold hardy and productive if you are up to the challenge. I especially like some of the red tinged varieties.

Endive – A similar growth habit to lettuce, endive is a bit hardier and is one of those bitter greens for gardeners and chefs who like a more flavor filled salad or a darker leaf for garnishes.

Asian Greens – You’ll encounter a wide range in this group from fiery hot mustards, to mild Napa Cabbages and distinctive tatsoi, they are all hardy and great for extending the growing season into the fall and winter months.

Chervil – This is a hardy herb plant that now grows wild in my landscape and can be found thriving in odd places especially during the cooler periods of spring and fall.

Next up I’ll share some of the equipment and season extension devices that Niki uses to make growing and harvesting produce during winter easier and more consistent.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • “Niki Jabbour hails from Nova Scotia, British Columbia”

    Huh? Those are both provinces at different ends of the country.

    Other that that, great review – I love her book!

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks K.B. my notes did say “Halifax, Nova Scotia” so I don’t know where I got British Columbia from… maybe it was a flashback from that trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington State where you can actually see British Columbia, but my error has been corrected!

  • Sounds like a book that I need to take a look at. Thanks for the handy tips.

  • Barbee

    I might have to buy that book.
    I, too, have a 12 month veggie garden. I utilize all the usual: cold frames, grow tunnels and I love the results. Early trunips & peas plus (really) late ‘new’ potatoes.
    My problem is calculating expected harvest dates. I use expected dates to plan my next rotation and winter confounds me because everyting grows so slowly. I got a clue from what she said about it being ‘all about day length’. Does the book elaborate on that? Does it give specific timing examples? (Do I add 2 weeks? 4 weeks?) I’m looking for that sort of info?

    Thanks Ken. This is a great subject for me.

    P.S. My snow peas are in flower. Now. 2/3/13 (Yay! Or is that: Ooops?) I think I planted them way too early.

  • Barbee

    Oh, Kenny.
    One more small question. Please.
    Assuming we agreed that this book was written especially for me. 🙂
    Would it be better for me to use my regular account @ Amazon or would I use a link found somewhere here on one of your web pages?

  • Kenny Point

    Barbee, good timing is the biggest issue with fall gardening and there are different approaches. Niki does cover that in her book, but to summarize she does count back using the normal dates to maturity and then builds in additional time to account for the slower growth and lower light levels. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange makes multiple sowings over a period of weeks to ensure that at least some of the plants go in at the perfect time. I tend to plant seeds for the fall garden more intuitively… when I “feel” the time is right, but the results don’t always turn out as expected.

    Ira’s method of spacing out multiple plantings probably offers the best guarantee of a successful harvest but requires more space and resources. Every growing region is different so part of the process is using your own experiences. And of course Mother Nature has a way of destroying the best of our plans! That’s another reason that the protective devices such as cold frames and tunnels are so useful because they allow you to moderate conditions as necessary for the benefit of your plants.

    Good luck with those peas!

    Regarding the book that Niki told me IS written just for you 🙂 … I am not currently using Amazon links on this site so just use your Amazon account or follow the link to Niki’s website and use the link there to purchase the book… thanks for asking.

  • Robert Nelson

    I’ve read some articles on extending the garden year, but have never tried it. Kenny, are you looking to extend year garden year? This may be the year to extend my garden year.

    Thanks Kenny

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Robert, I am always looking to extend the garden year! Even here in PA during the middle of winter I usually have something growing outside under cover or can locate some wild edible plants in spite of the cold, ice, and snow. It is definitely good experience and worth the effort.

  • Delane

    Sounds like a fantastic book!

  • KL

    Fantastic list. Thanks for sharing. I am writing it down in my garden-note-book.

  • The list of vegetables includes most of my favorites; I guess there’s hope for me in zone 6. This year I’m going to branch out into vegetables. Great article. Thanks!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi John, veggies are a rewarding area to branch out into and fall/winter gardening is a great experience!

  • Winter Gardening huh! Great idea. . . I really have to try this.
    Just stumble upon this blog and read this very informative post. Will surely come back for more. Good job Kenny!

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