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How to Get Fresh Food from Your Garden in Winter

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.

Persephone

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.

Harvesting

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.

Winter Garden Icon with veg globe

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!

Season Extension Basics

When we think of gardening, it’s common to conjure up images of summer and all those juicy summer crops we love so much. However, these images prevent us from realizing a year-round garden. The reality is that there are people who live in climates where it’s freezing much of the year but successfully grow during much of that time. It takes a little infrastructure, but you can have fresh food throughout the cold months. Start here with season extension basics.

What is Season Extension?

Simply put, season extension describes methods you can use to extend the season. It’s not limited to winter gardening. A walipini, for example, is an underground greenhouse designed to protect crops from intense heat. For this article, though, we are focusing on season extension methods typically used to grow crops through colder climates.

Different Types of Cold Season Extension

The most common forms of winter protection—besides greenhouses—are cold frames, row cover, low tunnels, and high tunnels. Cold frames are either a raised bed or set in the ground. What makes these spaces a cold frame is the clear lid that angles towards the sun covering the growing area. High tunnels (also referred to as hoop houses), low tunnels, & row covers are half-circle, tunnel-like structures covered with crop protective material.

High tunnels are sized so that multiple beds fit underneath and are usually tall enough to walk through. Low tunnels are tunnel structures that cover a single bed and typically range from two to four feet high. Row cover tunnels are tunnels that cover just a single row in a bed.

Coverings

In greenhouse construction, the clear materials used to cover the greenhouse are typically glass or polycarbonate hard plastics and referred to as glazes. Cold frames are typically raised beds,  made of wood, sometimes insulated, and topped with an angled glass or plexi-glass. 

For hoop houses of all sizes, the materials used to cover the hoop house area are generally known as coverings. These coverings are either agricultural fabric or flexible plastic and come in different thicknesses. The thicker the covering, the more protection. But thicker does not necessarily mean better. The thicker the covering, the less light your plants receive. So ideally, you want to make sure that your greenhouse is in an area that will get 8-10 hours of sunlight so your plants don’t lose too much sunlight from whatever covering you have on your hoop house. 

The type of season extension you’ll need depends on how cold your winter temperatures get. If you have mild winters and you want to grow just cold hardy crops, you might only need a row cover with a light agricultural fabric covering. If you live in a climate with a harsh winter, you might choose a row cover with a thick agricultural fabric and a low tunnel or hoop house with a medium to thick flexible plastic covering. There’s so much more to season extension that you’ll want to know before finalizing your infrastructure plans, but these season extension basics can get you started on your winter garden journey.

Want to discover more about season extension and learn how to grow a winter garden? Check out the Winter Gardening Course. 

Make Gardening a Lifestyle, Not a Chore

It’s common for growers to get into gardening and get bogged down. When the garden isn’t providing you the healthy, vital lifestyle you want and your garden isn’t giving you the healthy harvest you’re looking for, it can often feel like an uphill battle just to get food on your plate! But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make gardening a lifestyle, NOT a chore.

That’s why we created the 3 Scientifically Proven Strategies for an Abundant Vegetable and Herb Garden Masterclass.

One of the strategies covered in the class is about a process our founder Stacey Murphy uses called the Circle of Awesome. It integrates gardening into your lifestyle a little bit at a time. So instead of scheduling tons of time whenever you can ‘get to it’ to complete garden tasks, you’ll be setting a little bit of time aside more often so that your garden isn’t a project but rather a lifestyle that becomes as effortless and automatic as brushing your teeth.

Stacey asks us to consider what we can do right now to feel healthy and vital. What can you do NOW so you can live more of the green lifestyle you want?

The Key is to Feel GREAT!

The key is to feel great about the journey. That’s hard when your garden isn’t giving you the results you wanted! When we feel good and joyful about what we’re doing, the habit is more likely to stick around.

So what can you do? How do you make Gardening a lifestyle, not a chore?

Even if you can’t find the 15-30 minutes each day to be IN your garden, it can be as simple as setting aside just 15 minutes each week for the discovery process of gardening. Just by doing this, you’re going to be more prepared for garden success than you ever thought possible. This is what expert growers do. You get everything ready through learning and planning. That builds your momentum for success so you feel good about your garden journey.

So what is the Circle of Awesome, and how can it transform your garden journey?

The Circle of Awesome

Once a week, you focus on one of the eight topics in the Circle. You can start anywhere. The eight topics are climate, soil and fertility, composting, planting, watering, pruning and trellising, harvesting, and mindset.

You may notice pests, diseases, and weeds are not on the list. That’s because when you focus on health and prevention, you focus on more of what you want. That’s why mindset is so important, and mindset is on the list.

You can pick anywhere in this circle. Since nature is cyclical, it doesn’t matter where you start. Pick anywhere, and you’re going to focus on that category for that week. Then the next week, go to the next topic.

It sounds overly simplified, but it’s very powerful. When you do this, you’ll discover interesting things about your local conditions and how to garden. It’s a way that you can break down all of the garden overwhelm and do a little bit at a time throughout the year, instead of trying to cram it all in during the height of the growing season.

And congrats! Because right now, reading this blog, you’ve already begun!

Gardening is a Lifestyle

Gardening is a lifestyle. It’s not always going to be outside in the garden with your hands in the dirt. It’s writing down your plan. It’s getting the right resources ready. It’s learning a little at a time. The miracle is that when you do this regularly, you’ll discover that your season is much more abundant.

Discover more about the Circle of Awesome and discover the other two strategies that can help you get the thriving garden you want with the 3 Scientifically Proven Strategies for an Abundant Vegetable and Herb Garden Masterclass.

5 Tricks to Get Higher Garden Yields

No one wants wasted space in the garden. Bare soil not only means less fresh food; it’s not good to leave your soil exposed like that. Luckily, there are a ton of ways to get more fresh food on your plate. Here are 5 tricks to get higher garden yields and keep your plants healthier. 

First and Foremost, Create A Crop Plan

If you haven’t created a crop plan, you’re going to be randomly sticking plants in the ground and planting seeds. This chaos might feel okay at the beginning of the season, but as the growing weeks proceed, you’re going to be spending a lot of effort wondering what to plant in that empty space. Crop plans are essential to maximizing your fresh food harvests.

Trick #1 – About Those Sun-Kissed Tomatoes

Single stem your indeterminate tomatoes. Single stemming is a process where you trellis your indeterminate tomato varieties and plant them just one foot apart versus the normal 18-24 inches. You’ll keep the lower branches trimmed leaving just one stem on the plant. When the plant begins to flower, you’ll prune all the way up to the first set of flowers. As you harvest those tomatoes, you’ll prune the leaves just above that cluster. The result is that while you’ll have fewer tomatoes per plant, you can get a higher yield overall because you’re planting the plants closer together. Plus, by pruning off all those leaves, you’re protecting your plants from pests and diseases and increasing air flow.

Trick #2 – Why Wait For Giant Hard-To-Work-With Roots

Harvest roots at smaller stages. The longer you leave a plant in the ground, the more potential that crop has to get a pest or disease. Not only will you lose less food to pests and diseases, but you can plant closer together than typical spacing. Forget planting beets 4-6 inches apart and harvesting them at 60 days when they’re gigantic and hard to work with, getting stains all over the counter. Harvest them at day 35-40 when the roots look more like the size of a radish. Then you can plant them just an inch apart and get more successions in before the season ends.

Trick #3 – Abandon Traditional Spacing 

Over plant and thin the in-betweens. Lettuce say 😉 you have a lettuce variety that says to space them 10 inches apart. Instead, place a plant every 5 inches. As they grow in, begin harvesting every other baby lettuce in the row. Now, you’ve had a whole row of half lettuces and still have a whole row of full head lettuce coming in!

Trick #4 – How to Plant Cool Season Crops In Summer

Plant cool season crops behind taller crops in summer. Lettuces are a cool season crop. When the heat arrives, the scorching afternoon sun is just too much for them. However, you can get lettuces later into the season by planting your lettuces on the north side of taller crops, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere and planting them on the south side of taller plants, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. This way, the lettuces get relief from the strong summer sun.

A great crop to choose for the protector plant are those single stem tomatoes because if your lettuces need more shade, you can leave an extra set of leaves on the tomatoes. But if your lettuces need more light, you can prune off more of the tomato leaves.

Trick #5 – Overlap Your Successions

Overlap your successions. A lot of the time gardeners will plant a row of plants, harvest, then plant another row. But this wastes time. Let’s say you’re growing a small variety of radish. These often mature in about 30 days. So you plant your row, but instead of waiting until you harvested that row, in 15 days, you’ll plant another row about 4 to 6 inches next to the original row. That second row will take about 5 days to germinate and another week or two before it starts needing the roots space. About the time that second round of radish needs more root space, you’ll be harvesting the first row, giving the second more root room.

These are just some of the tricks you can use to pack in more plants and get more fresh food harvests from your garden. But none of these tricks will matter if you don’t properly plan your garden with a crop plan.

If you’ve never created a crop plan before, you can learn how in our Beginner Crop Planning Micro Course. 

>>> Click HERE to Learn More About the Beginner Crop Planning Micro Course <<<

Keep Your Garden Plentiful with a Well-Designed Crop Plan

One of the most common occurrences with gardeners is that they leave a massive amount of space empty in their gardens every year. This happens with new and seasoned growers alike. All that empty space means you’re not getting the best return on your investment…and it’s not for lack of planning. Keep your garden plentiful with a well-designed crop plan.

Dedicated growers will spend hours and hours trying to create a solid garden plan only to discover midseason that there is a lot of unused space. That unused space isn’t just a strike against your time, money, and effort. It’s also not ideal for your soil. Soil is precious, and seasoned growers know—gardeners grow soil, not plants.

The best thing you can do for you and your garden is to learn how to maximize your harvest yields by using every square inch of space. To do that, you need one thing: a solid crop plan.

However, this is what most growers create for a crop plan, and it isn’t a crop plan at all:

The Difference Between a Crop Plan and A Garden Map

This is a garden map. The difference between a garden map and a crop plan is that a crop plan is like a video of your entire growing season and a garden map represents one frame of that video. The garden map you see above is one moment in time. The crop plan is the chart of all the points in time that something big needs to happen in your garden.

That doesn’t mean a garden map is useless. In fact, garden maps can help us understand and calculate proper plant spacing. It’s just that it alone cannot maximize your yields.

Once you begin building a crop plan that charts your entire season and creating garden maps during key points in time, you’ll not only see how many plants you can get in at one time. You’ll also see how many successions you can grow. This word throws a lot of new growers off, and it’s often confused with crop rotation. Even the definition of succession in farming is confusing for a lot of new growers so I’ve found it best to create the definition using an example. 

The Difference Between Succession & Crop Rotation

So what is a succession? Let’s say you are planting a smaller variety of radish in your garden starting in March and let’s say your climate lets you grow them all the way until the end of May. That’s three months or roughly 90 days. But the small radishes typically only take about 28-35 days to mature.

So you plant in March and then in April you’ve harvested. Instead of leaving that space bare for the next two months, you’ll plant another round of radishes in April and another in May. That’s three total. These ‘rounds’ are the successions, and a properly done crop plan gives you the insight into how many successions you can get from a given crop.

Crop rotation is something entirely different. Crop rotation basically means that if you plant your cucumbers in bed 1 this year, you don’t plant them or any other members of that plant family in that bed again next year. In fact, your crop rotation should be on a four year cycle. So ideally, you’ll have four garden beds.

Crop rotation helps keep our gardens healthy in a number of different ways. The first is that crops have varying nutritional requirements. So let’s say, for example, that you always plant corn in the same place. Corn is notorious for being a heavy nitrogen feeder, so over time, the soil you plant your corn in will be depleted of nitrogen. By rotating the crops, you’re helping to keep your soil nutrients levels more in balance.

Using Crop Rotation In Small Gardens

But what if you only have two garden beds? That’s okay. The goal would then be to subdivide the beds into two so you have four equal parts. You’ll plant the cucumbers in the first section of bed 1 the first year, the second section of bed 1 the second year, then move to the second bed the third and fourth year, cutting that bed in two sections as well.

Crop rotation also helps suppress pests and diseases. If you plant tomatoes in the same place every year, those tomato hornworms are going to know exactly where to go to get their next meal. By planting them somewhere new each year, you’re making those pests and diseases work that much harder to get your food.

Create A Crop Plan For Garden Success

With a well designed crop plan, you can easily rotate your crops without having to redo your crop plan every year and recalculate how many plants and seeds you’re going to need. To learn more on creating a well designed crop plan, check out the Beginner Crop Planning Micro Course.