As Winter approaches it is time to sort out what will happen to the vegetables and herbs in your survival garden. Some plants can be left outside, while others can be brought inside to continue growing or for storage in a semi-dormant state until Spring. Of course, some of this decision depends on your local climate, but many of these techniques are valid throughout most of the United States.
What to Bring Inside
If you’d like to continue to enjoy the just-picked freshness of your plants, there are some that you can bring inside that will happily continue to grow and produce throughout the Winter months. These include most annual and biennial herbs like parsley, basil, dill, and cilantro. These herbs would normally be killed by frost, but you can pot them up and bring them inside. Plant fresh herbs from seed in containers and grow indoors year round. Perennial herbs like rosemary, chives, and oregano can survive the winter months in the garden.
Leaf lettuces are a great vegetable to grow indoors; however, due to their shallow root system, you will have to pay careful attention to watering. Microgreens are also a fantastic option for indoor-grown nutrition.
Tomatoes can be grown in containers indoors through the Winter. You can pot up your outdoor tomatoes and bring them inside. If you’d like to keep harvesting tomatoes you will need to put them in the brightest spot in your house, or even better yet, provide them with a grow light. To further encourage your tomato harvest, it is recommended to fertilize the plants about once a week with a liquid fertilizer designed for indoor plants. Maintaining consistent soil moisture is also important. You’ll know it’s time to water when the first inch or so of soil is dry.
Eggplants are a perennial plant which means they could technically continue growing year-round; however, they are also a tropical plant so do not survive frost or snow. Even in the warm months, eggplants thrive in containers. Why not start them out that way so it is easy to bring them indoors for Winter? Before Winter, you should trim your eggplant down to 3 strong stems (usually the main stem and the first two larger branches). This might seem extreme, but this will help slow the growth of the plant through the winter so that when Spring comes it can use its energy to grow new shoots. While it’s indoors, provide your eggplant with direct sunlight and minimal drafts and water regularly.
What Can Stay In the Garden
Some vegetables are cold-hardy and even taste better after being exposed to frost. You can safely leave brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, collards, and garlic in your garden for the winter. Other vegetables like cabbage, arugula, mustards, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and leeks can stay in the garden if you can provide row covers for some protection.
Real magic happens to root vegetables like beets, carrots, and turnips if you leave them in the ground without harvesting through winter. Root vegetables convert starches into sugars as natural protection from freezing. Your over-wintered root veggies will lose their tops, so you might have to do some digging to reach them in the Spring, but the sweet flavor will be worth it.
Winter Garden Maintenance
As we’ve explained in previous blog posts, it’s important to do some maintenance on your garden. For plants that you want to over-winter, a nice layer of mulch can protect them from the harshest elements. In the rest of the garden where the growing season has ended, make sure to remove any dead plants, amend your soil with some good compost and add a layer of mulch or plant some cover crops that you can till into the ground in the Spring.
Just because the weather is cold, your harvest doesn’t have to end. A successful garden is a year-round project. Here are some seed ideas to get you started: