If gardening makes you happy and brings delicious food to your table as well as personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement, you might want to garden year-round. Just because the temperature drops doesn’t mean you have to drop the joy of gardening. Gardening in the winter can be fun and productive. It can help chase away the winter blues too. Read on for some easy winter gardening tips from DripWorks.
It's entirely possible to garden in zones 8, 9, and 10 by using a medium-weight row cover. A mulch of straw, leaves or pine needles will also help you discover the joys of winter gardening by keeping your plants warmer and the soil moist.
You may plant some short-season crops and root vegetables. Beets, carrots and onions make excellent cool-weather root crops. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage are good picks for their tolerance to cold weather.
In addition, cold-hardy plants like fava beans can withstand wintry conditions in more temperate areas. Enjoyed as long ago as during the Roman Republic, these beans are about the size of lima beans. They taste great sautéed or barbecued. In addition to providing you great flavor and nutrition, fava beans will improve your garden by fixing nitrogen they take from the air and fix in the soil.
With a greenhouse or high tunnel, your gardening season can be extended in zones 5, 6, and 7 primarily if you use heat mats to start your seeds or plants. Smaller cold frames made from old windows on a wooden or cinder-block frame can work too if you check them each day to provide ventilation.
The veggie choice is limited for growing with little or no protection. Chard and kale can be planted under row cover or out in the open and will make it through a mild winter with no problem. Garlic can handle frost easily if you plant in late September or the first half of October. It will put down roots in the fall and start sprouting. By the middle of June, it will be ready for harvest and enjoyment by you, your family and friends.
High Tunnels and Greenhouses
Greenhouse gardening in winter can extend the growing season in many areas. Besides protecting plants from frost and the weather, a greenhouse can guard your crop against deer, rabbits and other pests.
Besides greenhouses, high tunnels provide a smart way to protect plants from weather, varmints and pests. Essentially an affordable, low-tech alternative to greenhouses, high tunnels are rounded hoop houses on a larger scale. High tunnels have some advantages over a greenhouse:
- Cost is much lower per square foot of growing area.
- Tunnel ventilation is very simple. Temperatures inside can be monitored by adjusting the sides, end door and peak vents.
- The sides can be rolled up, and doors at the ends can be opened fully or closed. This can help you control temperature and ventilation. In summer, the high tunnel cover is usually open all day. In spring and fall, a high tunnel can be closed if the weather gets cold.
- High tunnels are covered in high-quality greenhouse film or woven polyethylene fabric.
To save even more, it’s relatively easy to make your own high tunnel with readily accessible materials. If you want to make your high tunnel, a 12-mil greenhouse material is available. This material allows up to 80% UV transfer, can be cut to your measurements at the factory, is priced by the square foot and is puncture- and tear-resistant.
Five Tips to Winterize Your Irrigation System
In most of the U.S., freezing and frost damage to a drip system during winter are real concerns. Two areas can be particular problem spots: the beginning of a system (timer, valves and filter) and low spots in the system where water may settle.
You can take some small, simple steps to avoid problems in these areas and the rest of your drip irrigation system. Otherwise, early-morning frosts can surprise a gardener who hasn't taken the following precautions.
- Bring battery timers, filters and regulators indoors. Battery timers should have the batteries removed to avoid battery leakage and other problems.
- Use the female hose plug fitting (HPLUG) to plug the beginning of the mainline tubing, or use a plastic bag tied over the opening. Do not leave lines open.
- After the main water supply (faucet or valve) is shut off, open all manual valves and set all automated valves to manual open. Remove all end fittings, drain any water and then loosely replace the ends.
- The tubing itself is usually not damaged by freezing, but the fittings may crack if water is left in them. Elevate the drip line slightly to ensure all water drains out of the tubing. Use a flush valve or insert an emitter at the lowest point in the system to drain.
- Another practice is to blow compressed air through the lines after opening the end cap.
Irrigating in a High Tunnel or Greenhouse
Winter garden irrigation need not be a hassle. Drip tape is a good and inexpensive way to irrigate if you plant in long rows. Misters or sprayers are perfect for starting young plants of when germinating the seed.
If you are looking for ease of use and durability, 1/2" emitter tubing is a long-lasting and pressure-compensating product with emitters factory-installed every 9", 12", 18", 24" or 36" inside the tubing. This tube can be run down the entire length of a high tunnel or greenhouse for crops such as berry plants, tomatoes, peppers and squash.
The Down-Spray Sprinkler puts down a 360-degree spray with a 20" diameter and is used between berry plants spaced 3 feet apart. These sprinklers are excellent if you want to top-dress with fertilizer during the growing season.
Gardening through the winter months is not for every gardener; not everyone has mild winters. But if you are in the right area, winter gardening can extend your season and your pleasure.
Let's enjoy our gardening season. Do it right by using quality products, the right crops and, of course, the right drip system. Enjoy your fall and winter gardens. They will more than pay you back in beauty, fun and delicious and nutritious produce.