Though shutting down the gardening for the winter is common practice, even for most experienced growers, the truth is that there are still some low-cost, productive opportunities for growing food year-round, regardless of the climate. For those moving towards self-sufficient lifestyles, it is entirely possible, and it might really help, to keep the food production going long after the frosts begin.
As a matter of fact, many winter gardeners like to boast of it actually being less work. Why’s that? There tends to be more moisture — rain or melt — around to keep the plants hydrated and healthy.
Insect and weed issues take a nose dive during the winter, so fighting those battles becomes significantly less. There are even quality soils and mulching materials leftover after summer and fall harvests, and this is the perfect way to put them to use.
So, here’s how to go about it.
1. Container Gardening Indoors
The easiest and likely cheapest way to grow food in the winter is to simply do it in the house. Choose sunny windows for creating container gardens. There are tons of foods that grow well in pots, and for those who want to have fresh, homegrown food for the winter, our home can be a lovely greenhouse itself. In a time when the foliage outside is largely brown or forgotten, our windowsills and the edges of rooms can be doused in greenery — fresh herbs, lettuces — and other delicious vegetables. It’s just takes some pots, potting mix and seeds. The temperature of the house is more than warm enough.
2. Homemade Hooped Rows
Container gardens are great solutions for small-scale production, and if they are well-planned, it’s possible to have freshly harvested salads of some sort throughout the winter. However, for larger production, it might require moving outside. Many gardeners simply make hoop tunnels over their existing raised beds. These only require a few, inexpensive items from the hardware store, but they protect crops from frosts and maintain a toastier temperature for the plants to enjoy. That said, with this design, growers should still only attempt cold-hardy plants: beets, carrots, parsnips, and radishes, as well as kale, cabbages, spinach, garlic, and onions.
3. Cold Frame Cutouts
Another popular means of having a winter garden without a huge amount of space or a greenhouse is to building cold frames. These are often raised beds, cut partially into a hillside (or simply into the ground). Above the beds, there is a box, often wooden, that has a clear lid, which lets in the sunlight but traps in the warmth. A popular and inexpensive way to build this would be repurposing some old windows for the top and piecing together the sides with reclaimed or pallet wood. With a little care, this can look beautiful and help to provide good veggies in the depths of winter. Again, it’s still wise to stick with the cold weather plants.
4. Converted Carports
As for discarded portable carports, the winter is the ideal time to have converted them into great growing spaces: greenhouses. With just a little plastic sheeting, a handy gardener could make these inexpensive frames perfect spots for food production. A few boards and some fasteners will quickly make an old carport frame into a sun-drenched grow space. Protected from frost and wind, those winter veggies will have a chance to reach their full potential in a upcycled greenhouse and ultimately make it to the kitchen pantry. This is probably the most expensive option, though possible for just a couple hundred bucks, especially with a used frame.
There are some other techniques that will really help these outdoor spaces stay a bit warmer. Using a thick straw mulch will provide warmth for the plants and protect the soil from freezing, as well as help retain moisture and feed the plants as it breaks down.
Be sure to face things to receive sunlight from the south (or north if in the southern hemisphere) so that the plants get all that warmth and all the sunlight available. Having compost do its thing in the greenhouse will naturally heat the area a little more. Then, grow away and enjoy fresh food all winter long.