By contributing writer Anni W. of TheBestGardening.com
The two biggest challenges to growing food in winter are decreased light and freezing temperatures.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your fresh garden produce when winter weather approaches. It just means a change in what you grow. Even in places like Canada and Alaska, a little light can go a long way for leafy greens.
Basic rule of thumb: Full sun for Fruit. Light sun for Leaves.
Anything that produces an edible leaf can be grown during the shorter days of winter.
Growing your greens outdoors all winter is possible, but will require a little more planning. You’ll need to grow your plants under row covers or in hoop houses. Choose southern-exposed areas that get as much sun (and heat) as possible. Mulch heavily to protect roots.
You can also grow your greens in pots on a south-facing windowsill. All the greens listed below can be successfully grown in a pot through the winter.
It’s surprising how satisfying it is to harvest your own greens in the middle of winter when there’s snow on the ground outside and the world looks dim and gray.
One reminder… don’t overwater! Indoor plants aren’t exposed to the wicking effects of wind, or the drying effects of the sun. So they don’t need as much water as they would if they were growing outdoors.
9 Greens You Can Grow All Winter
- Pea greens
- Garden Sorrel
- Mache/Corn Salad
- Salad Burnet
- Land cress
Pea greens are my favorite – which is why I listed them first. With less light, the pea plant won’t produce peas, but the shoots and leaves still have that wonderful English pea flavor.
Grow a bushing variety, like Little Marvel, in pots indoors, or outdoors under row covers in an area where they’ll be protected from harsh winds and get as much light as possible.
They can be considered a ‘cut and come again’ green if you harvest only the tips of the shoots, starting at around 3 weeks after sowing. I would recommend you buy the seeds in bulk.
Mizuna is an Asian mustard green. It has a spicy or peppery flavor, though milder than arugula. It will grow well outdoors in some areas, with protection, or indoors in a pot as a cut-and-come-again green.
There are a handful of different varieties of mizuna. If you’re looking for a more ornamental one, you could try Red Streaked Mizuna.
Garden sorrel is another favorite of mine. I love the lemony flavor of the leaves. It is quite easy to grow in a pot on a southern windowsill all winter long. It likes to send its roots deep, so give it a good, deep pot to grow in.
The best bit? It’s a perennial, so you don’t have to replant it every year.
A non-bulbing fennel, such as Grosfruchtiger fennel, can be grown purely for the stems and leaves which have a sweet, anise flavor. A bulbing fennel can also be grown purely for the leaves, though they may not do as well in a pot as a non-bulbing fennel.
For extra color, you could try bronze fennel.
Mache, known as corn salad in America, is a nice, mild-flavored green that grows in tidy bunches. There are two basic varieties – large-seeded and small-seeded. Small-seeded varieties are better suited to cold temperatures. (Pictured below is a large-seeded variety.)
Salad burnet is another perennial green. It tastes like unsweetened watermelon – kind of a cucumber flavor.
If you grow it in a pot, it’ll be happier if you give a deep pot that it can sink its roots into.
An added bonus are the cute, pink flowers it sometimes produces.
Agretti is a much-loved green in Italy and in our home. I first discovered it while looking up Italian vegetables, and I decided to try it. We’ve grown it every year since.
It has a crunchy texture with a tart, slightly salty flavor – which alludes to its ability to grow in salty soils where other plants wouldn’t be able to grow at all.
Agretti must have cool conditions to germinate. It’s notorious for its low-germination rate (only about 30%) which we’ve found to hold true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t successfully grow it – it just means you’ll have to sow a few more seeds than usual.
If you spent any time in Europe, you’ve probably had an egg ‘n cress sandwich or two. The cress typically used on these classic tea sandwiches is water cress, but land cress (also known as American cress) is a perfectly good substitute.
Land cress is a very hardy perennial. If you’re going to try to grow any of these greens outdoors all winter long – this is the one to try your luck with. Be sure to mulch it well.
Arugula is becoming more well-known in America every year. There are several different types of arugula, with varying degrees of spiciness and other tones of flavor.
If you grow arugula outdoors during the winter, choose a more cold-hardy variety (usually the ‘wild’ arugulas, such as Sylvetta).
Anni and her husband John are parents, homeschoolers, gardeners, and homesteaders. They own TheBestGardening.com, where they blog about soil-to-table food production from gardens and small-acreage farms. Follow then on Google Plus.