When we think of eating homegrown food during the cold season, we often think of staples such as potatoes squirreled away in the root cellar, or of vegetables such as winter squash stashed in a cool, dry place. But many gardeners are discovering the joys of harvesting fresh produce all winter long, which allows for feasts of cold-hardy crops that are just-picked and just right for the time of year. According to Jodi Lew-Smith of High Mowing Seeds in Wolcott, Vt., the seed-buying season used to be January, February and March. “Now there’s also a surge in June, July, August and into September for fall-planted crops,” she says. Eating from the garden is just too pleasant to give up simply because the temperature — and the snow — may have fallen.
I don’t mean growing tomatoes in January. Fruiting crops no doubt need long, sunny days and warm conditions to complete their delicious arc of softening, deepening in color and perfectly ripening. Winter fare is about leaves, stems and roots, which mature more and more slowly as the weather cools and the days shorten. Better still, winter vegetables sweeten with the cold. If you’ve ever tasted a winter-pulled carrot or winter-cut spinach, you’re familiar with the treasures winter gardening can bring.
With my husband, Eliot Coleman, I run Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, where winter production is a key part of our business. Over the past two decades, we’ve built, trialed and collected data on many hoop house designs and crop-protection methods. We’ve also tested many crops — and multiple varieties of those crops — to discover what grows best in winter.