5 Ways to Bolster Your Cold Weather Food Production

By Lee Bellinger / November 12, 2013

5 Ways to Bolster
Your Cold Weather Food Production

Cabbages in the snow
Growing a self-reliant garden doesn’t have to end in the dark winter months.
The ability and skill to grow nutritious produce when all other plants turn barren from the cold can add some healthy variety to your winter plate, gives you a great reason to stay active outdoors when it’s cold, and can improve your overall self-reliance and food security.
The vegetables you’re able to grow depend a lot on your local climate. The colder and darker it gets, the fewer types of vegetables you have available to plant, the shorter window you have to work your garden, and the sooner you have to get started.
But we have a few tips to help lengthen your growing season by warming up temperatures a bit and help you reap a more bountiful harvest…

Cold Weather Vegetables
That Can Brighten Your Dishes…

  • One gourmet vegetable grown in winter is leek. They look similar to green onions but longer and thicker;
  • Lettuce is a traditional winter crop. Depending on the kind you grow, the texture and color of the lettuce varies from light green to dark red to even purple;
  • Broccoli is a healthy cool-season choice. It prefers to be out in full winter sun, but also does well in partial shade;
  • Red and green cabbage can be grown in late winter and harvested as soon as the heads form;
  • Chinese cabbages and mustards grow well in cold frames (see below) and taste great;
  • Parsnips are sweetest when pulled in January or early February after the coldest part of the year.

Lengthen Your Growing Season Outdoors…

Experienced and self-reliant cold weather growers have depended on many tried-and- true techniques to grow abundant produce during the dark months of the year. The goal for the methods below is to keep your plants comfortable by raising temperatures so they can grow stronger.
Windbreaks and Walls – They can add as much as 15 degrees of warmth in the winter, especially if you use a south-facing wall; making the best use of solar energy even on short days.
Cloche
Cloches – These come in all shapes and sizes. Think of them as miniature and movable green houses. You can make them out of almost any translucent (or transparent) material with or without a frame. Just place them over your plants, or row of plants, and let solar radiation warm them. Since they’re movable beware of strong winds that can blow them away. And if it’s especially sunny, they could get too hot, and you’ll need to ventilate them.
Cold Frames – They’re plant-height permanent structures. Think of a wooden box with a clear roof (angled to let rain water drain off). They’re sturdily built and hold up well in the wind and can protect sensitive plants from frost.
Hot Beds – These are cold frames with a heating source below. The heat source usually comes from buried electric heating cables, but a more sustainable method is using a bed of decomposing manure below the growing soil. An advanced option for long-term investment would be geothermal.
Raised Beds – These also help raise temperatures inside the growing space. Although, in especially cold climates combining some of the methods above may be necessary. One trick is building the walls from stone, brick, concrete, or even old tires. These materials absorb the sun’s warmth during the day and give it off at night.

If Growing Outdoors Is Too Troublesome…

The methods above are great for keeping your plants and vegetables comfortable in the cold, but you still have to step outside and do the work exposed to the chills.
If you have the room, building a greenhouse can do wonders to extend your growing season and could offer a more comfortable environment for you.
Another option is growing indoors. Potted herbs, garlic, lettuce, and more can grow indoors under lights and especially exposed to sunny windows. This method is especially nice if you want to keep your garden quiet and out of sight.
Having fresh vegetables, just pulled from the soil during the winter adds healthy and tasty options to your diet and can also be paired with emergency food supplies you may be ready to rotate out.