For growers with a winter season, giving up that garden-fresh food in the colder months can be a bit frustrating. Not only is winter a time when colds and flus are at their peak, now you aren’t getting the fresh, nutrient-rich foods you’re accustomed to getting from your garden. 😧 That’s why many growers grow through their winter months—so they can get nutrient-dense food year-round. No matter where you live, you can grow through the winter. So how do you get fresh food from your garden in winter? Before you decide to grow through the winter, there’s one important thing you need to know: when is your Persephone Period?
What is a Persephone Period?
The Persephone Period is a term coined by Eliot Coleman, an organic farmer, author, agricultural researcher, and educator. It is the period of time when plants go into a type of hibernation due to too little hours of total sunlight in a day.
How the Persephone Period Got Its Name
Persephone is the ancient Greek goddess of vegetation. One story is that her return to Hades each year signaled the earth going into a phase of being barren. Does this sound familiar to you? It is the story of winter in Greek mythology.
The Persephone Period’s Impact on Your Plants
Most growers know that plants want six to eight hours of FULL sunlight without any shade at all. This is a little misleading. Because while it’s true they want six to eight hours of direct light, they also need to be in an environment where there is light for ten hours a day. During times when there is less than ten total hours of light in any given day, plants go into hibernation mode.
When growers first start growing through winter, they set up their greenhouses, cold frames, and other season extension materials to ensure their plants get proper temperatures for growing. More often than not, they place their garden infrastructure in an area that receives six to eight hours of sunlight, even through the winter. Then they plant their seeds and transplants. The problem is that if the Persephone period isn’t taken into consideration, plants stop growing halfway through their maturing state, and then the grower either gets small harvests or can’t harvest at the time when they expected to be able to harvest.
How to Harvest During Your Persephone Period
You can still harvest food through your Persephone period, but you need to make sure that your plants are fully grown before your Persephone Period starts. First, check what dates your area has less than ten hours of sunlight. When that date starts, that’s the date your plants must be almost to completely mature.
To make sure you have enough to harvest through your whole Persephone Period, you need to figure out how long that time lasts for you and then plant enough to harvest during that time. So, if your Persephone Period is 30 days long, figure out how much harvest you want to have of each crop through that time frame and then plant that amount at the same time.
Sometimes growers will stagger that by a few weeks and plant half the amount one week. Then two weeks later, they plant the other half because often the plants’ growth slows but doesn’t stop growing completely right away. Plus, breaking the planting in half makes the task of planting an entire month or more of harvest much more manageable.
Crops that Grow During Winter
If you’re fairly new to gardening and not sure what crops to start growing in your winter garden, select cool season crops. Avoid summer crops unless you have a fully heated greenhouse and are growing self-pollinating varieties.
Crops like kale, collard greens, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and radishes are good choices for first time winter gardeners. Remember that your season extension infrastructure has to maintain proper temperatures for growing the crops you want to grow.
Once your crops are near to fully grown and your Persephone Period begins, you won’t harvest all the food at once. Since your crops are hibernating, you can treat the garden as your refrigerator and harvest when you’re ready to eat.
Before you start your winter garden journey, be sure to factor in your Persephone Period so you can get fresh food on your plate year-round, even when Persephone has returned to Hades.
Want to Learn More About Winter Gardening? Discover our Winter Garden Course and get the know-how you need to get fresh food all winter long!