You Can Grow Tasty Edibles Outside – All Winter Long

You Can Grow Tasty Edibles Outside – All Winter Long

Growing vegetables in low-tunnels

Here in southern Missouri winters can easily go from extremes of above normal temps one week to way below normal the next, but that doesn’t mean that gardeners have to give up growing, even in January or February.

So many vegetables, like kale, collards, lettuce, spinach, and winter radishes like Daikons actually prefer the colder temperatures – and the reduced amount of sunlight will keep them from going to seed too quickly.

In the late summer you will have to be thinking ahead in order to have a good crop of produce by winter. You need to plant the seeds in mid to late August for the plants to be mature enough to withstand the cold winter temperatures. Seeds from cool weather crops sometimes have difficulty germinating in the hot soil of August, but you can cool it down by shading it for a few days with a board over the row of seeds. I have even dumped ice cubes along the row each evening for several days until the seeds have sprouted.

After the plants have made growth, and the nights start getting cold I start placing containers of water inside the growing area.  Recycled gallon jugs (from empty vinegar, laundry soap, or other similar containers) and even 5 gallon buckets work well. 

Then I put hoops over the row made from half-inch schedule 40 plastic pipes, cut as needed, and spaced about every three feet. I’ve also used recycled plastic irrigation line stiffened with heavy wire as a container. Other inexpensive materials you can find laying around the house can also be used as long as they are strong enough to support plastic sheeting that might be covered with snow. These hoops will hold up the clear plastic I next lay over the hoops.  The containers of water inside this mini-hoop house will heat up during the day and emit that captured heat during the cool of night.

When the temperatures really start dropping in mid-winter I will put several layers of tarp over the rows in the evenings to retain more heat inside the plastic covered rows.  I use recycled lumber tarps that I get for free when visiting local lumber yards – just ask if they have any old lumber tarps you can take – often these are in their dumpsters.  Just make sure to uncover the rows if winter temps rise (usually when they get over 60 degrees) and when the sun is out.  And make sure you cover them again when night time temperatures fall below freezing.

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