The ultimate survival garden is one that produces not only in the summer growing season, but provides delicious food all throughout the year regardless of where you live. And isn't that the point of sustainable living in the first place?
Climate conditions, soil, water and temperature all play a part in what you can grow effectively in your garden. It's obvious that plants and vegetables can thrive where you live but struggle in other parts of the country.
Growing seasons can be just as big a consideration as geographical location, which is why we are going to cover the topic of winter gardening tips in some detail.
Being Sustainable Year Round
Your location plays a big factor in whether or not you can sustain a year round garden where you live.
We live in Southern Arizona which is high desert. Our temperatures drop below freezing often in the winter and we do get snow on occasion, but we have learned what to grow to produce food year round.
Hopefully, this information will help you decide which plants will grow and thrive during the colder months so you can maintain a garden in your area through the winter months as well.
The first few years we only gardened seasonally, when the weather was most suitable for plants to grow. Unfortunately, that doesn't always give you enough food to sustain your family through the winter. Especially if you are gardening in a small area.
Some gardening ideas are more unusual than others… such as the time we ran across and add on Craigslist for a free Jacuzzi. Our original plans were to make a sustainable fish pond out of it. But with further research I realized that our location was too cold to sustain fish without a heater.
The Jacuzzi did not come with the heater so it became our first winter garden.
Since the Jacuzzi was already insulated, my husband just ran a fence around the sides to keep animals out. And with the addition of a tarp pulled over the top during the cold months to keep the frost off our plants, it serves our gardening purposes well.
It took us quite a while to fill the large tub,since the soil at our location does not have proper nutrients to plant a good garden. Instead of spending the money for store bought soil, we came up with a creative solution to our bad soil problem.
Each time we cleaned one of our animal pens (chicken, goat, pig and rabbit), we shoveled all the excrement and dirt that we had removed into the Jacuzzi and put a layer of straw on the top of each layer.
It took us about a year to set up the Jacuzzi garden, and get the soil right before we could use it. But it has paid off year after year ever since!
Picking Your Crops
Image courtesy of: alpatovroma
When choosing plants for your winter crops remember, they should be planted and sprout before the first frost. We follow the list of what plants do well in cold winter, when planting our winter garden.
- Garlic – Separate bulbs but do not remove the skin, plant with the end up stick out of the ground bit.
- Leeks – Can be harvested year round, and do pretty well in mild winters.
- Onions – Onions like rich soil. The best time to plant your onion sets is usually January or February, although we always have onions growing in our gardens.
- Radishes – One of the fastest growing crops, they are not really particular about the soil they are planted in and the smooth varieties can be ready to harvest in about a month.
- Lettuce – Grows best with good soil and ample water. Check the varieties of what will grow best in your area, but lettuce is also something we grow year round.
- Peas – Will grow through the winter if tended to properly… sugar snaps do the best in our area over the coldest months.
- Potatoes – We usually plant potatoes in the early winter – January or February – and let them grow through the season and harvesting in the fall.
- Greens – Swish Card, Spinach, Kale, Winter Salad, Mustard Greens, Land Cress, Lamb Lettuce and Bok Choy do well in cooler weather.
- Shallots – Grow do well throughout the winter months with some protection.
- Broad Beans – We haven't had have much luck with them in our open gardens during the winter, but they do well in our greenhouse.
- Asparagus – Asparagus is planted mid-fall. This is a commitment plant as they are left to grow for two years before harvest. Asparagus beds have been known to produce for up to 25 years after they are established.
- Carrots – Tend to do well if the weather stays moderate and does not get extremely cold.
- Peppers – Excellent choice as they do amazingly well in the winter months.
- Eggplant – We only grow Eggplannts in the greenhouse where the temperature is controlled.
- Tomatoes – Like Eggplant, will grow in the greenhouse where the temperature is controlled.
- Root Vegetables – Beets, Turnips, Sweet Potatoes, Marble Potatoes, Parsnips, Rutabagas, Kohlrabi, Ginger, Celery, Daikon, Fennel, Horseradish, Jicama and Wasabi. We have all grown all of these though the winter… Some not as well as the others due to the cold weather in our area.
Depending on your particular location, your list of crops that grow well through the winter may be different. This list is what we have found to work well in our area but still should give you a good idea where to start. Of course, it's a good idea to experiment based on what types of food your family likes and what will best grow and thrive where you live.
Choosing Your Type Of Garden
Our first choice of having a winter garden would always have been a greenhouse, but we didn't get our first greenhouse until we were already 6 years into winter gardening. That was the year my Son and his family gave us a standing greenhouse as a Christmas gift. Then, the following year we received a popup greenhouse from my Brother's family.
Having a greenhouse was an incredible improvement to our winter gardens.
The popups are great for setting up but they don't last long. The free standing greenhouse took a lot more time and effort to set up. After we set it up we found out the clips didn't hold the panes during heavy winds, so we ended up getting window caulking and going around each and every pane, which resolved the problem of having panes blow loose and ending up in trees.
The instructions on setting up the self standing greenhouse's tend to be less then informative. Plan on finding words you forgot you knew… and my best advice is find a video on YouTube to help you through the process of putting it together.
As for alternatives, we have found that having a Jacuzzi garden, raised beds, or using old windows to make an underground greenhouse work very well.
Of course, most of your root vegetables will grow in the ground with just some insulation to protect them.
Insulating your winter garden will enable the plants to sustain colder weather. We use old hay or straw and put about 2-3 inches across the garden and up to the stalk of the plants when the weather turns cold. Wood chips and saw dust would work also.
This keeps the plants and roots warmer and can prevent them from getting damaged by frost. Decaying hay and straw this will give the same effect as a hot compost pile… it will generate heat as it decays. Continue adding more layers throughout the winter and your garden should do great.
Don't forget, your garden is going to need water throughout the winter, the best time to water is in the warmer part of the day so you won't have ice crystals forming on the plants.
These tips can give you a head start toward maintaining a year-round sustainable food supply regardless of where you live and what type of weather you have to endure.
Did we miss any good tips? Please tell us your own smart winter gardening secrets in the comments.
Good luck and happy winter gardening!
Roxanne Newman is a 4th generation homesteader, trying to live a better life.
(Roxy's Homestead is written exclusively for Survival Chops by Roxanne Newman)
Until next time…
Take care and God bless
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