It’s that time again! Winter is on the way, and it’s time to consider which crops to grow and how well we can protect them. Don’t just hang up your trowel simply because its getting frosty. There are many winter crops to grow and harvest from your garden this season! Here are 28 great cold-tolerant vegetables for your winter garden.
Growing Crops for Winter Harvest
Most winter crops are either leafy vegetables or root crops. Classic fruiting crops (tomatoes, melons, et cetera) are generally not cold-hardy, although there are a few that make the list below!
Winter crops are limited by low/short daylight levels, cool-weather precipitation, and cold temperatures (and temperature swings). Cooler areas often make use of season-extension gardening gear like cloches, cold frames, polytunnels/hoop-houses, row cover, unheated greenhouses, and other winter crop protection.
Winter gardening is about harvesting crops all winter that were planted in the summer and fall. Slow-growing crops like brassicas need a longer time to mature than really speedy crops like arugula and radishes. Now let’s look at the list!
Lettuce is a kitchen staple for salads and sandwiches, no matter what time of year. Lettuce can generally grow tremendously well during winter and some types can tolerate some light frost even without cover. In Zone 4/5 and cooler, it will grow most consistently in a covered polytunnel, cold frame (as above), or other unheated covered area (like a greenhouse).
In mild climates, plant seeds every few weeks to have an ongoing harvest throughout winter. In borderline zones, sow extra lettuce every few weeks in the fall until seed germination stalls:
- Buttercrunch Butterhead Lettuce Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
- Rouge dHiver Romaine Lettuce Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
Kale is perhaps my favourite winter crop. I first grew kale during the winter when I lived in chilly Zone 3 (northern Alberta). I was amazed at the cold temperatures it could put up with! In truly cold areas, it may need a bit of winter protection, but here in Zone 5, its fine without cover for much of the winter. The leaves even get sweeter after a few freezes. What a wonderfully wintery crop! Here are my faves:
- Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch Kale Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
- Nero Toscana Italian Dinosaur Kale Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
Spinach is an excellent winter crop, as its cold-tolerant and is versatile in the kitchen. Use fresh winter spinach in salads, smoothies, and even cooked pasta dishes for some healthy homegrown greens in the dead of winter. Direct-sow through August and September until seed germination is hampered by cool weather.
Certain types of radish (known as winter radishes) are typically sown in mid-to-late summer for fall-to-winter harvest. The yummy roots are triggered to grow by the shorter day lengths of autumn, leading to yummy radishes for holiday meals! Radishes may need a cold-frame or other type of season extending cover in cooler climates to enable winter harvest. In the coldest zones, harvest them in fall and store for use throughout the winter.
- Noir Gros Rond Black Spanish Winter Radish Seeds (Heirloom)
- Miyashige White Daikon Radish Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
- Mantanghong Beauty Heart Chinese Watermelon Radish Seeds
Garlic is a winter crop in many areas, depending on the climate. Cooler areas plant garlic in the fall to overwinter in the garden soil, ready for harvest in the following summer. So, while this crop isn’t ready for harvest during the winter, it certainly deserves a spot in your winter garden!
Cabbage is commonly harvested in November, once it’s been sweetened a bit by frost (cabbage plants are frost-tolerant). In mild areas, however, it’s possible to leave healthy cabbage plants growing for a winter crop harvest in December or even January. Cooler areas can harvest cabbages before the snow flies for use later on in the winter, as many varieties store well for 3-6 months. Yay for coleslaw! Here are some excellent winter cabbages to grow:
7. Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts are like mini cabbages that grow on a central stalk. Like cabbages, brussel sprouts are frost-hardy plants which actually grow sweeter in cool temperatures. Choose a winter-ready variety, like:
8. Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard is a classic winter crop for the garden, as most types are frost-tolerant. It will overwinter well in mild climates and can survive under a cold frame or other season extender in cooler areas. Here are some lovely varieties to use in wintertime salads, smoothies, and cozy casseroles:
- Celebration Rainbow Swiss Chard Seeds
- Ruby Red Swiss Chard Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
- Bright Lights Swiss Chard Seeds
Beets are related to chard, but are grown for their yummy red roots. Grow them as you would chard (above), harvesting throughout winter. Beets make delicious winter soups and can even be roasted into yummy chips!
- Chioggia Italian Beet Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
- Detroit Dark Red Beet Seeds (Heirloom)
- Golden Boy Beet Seeds
10. Mustard Greens
Mustard is well known for its ability to survive colder temperatures. The greens do not withstand hard frost, but can tolerate the light ones. They do tremendously well in well-drained, fertile soil. Here are two lovely mustards to add to your winter vegetable garden:
Cauliflower can often be sown in the late summer or fall for winter harvest. While the plants may need protection in cooler zones, this winter crop can generally hold its own in the garden in areas with more mild winters. Fully-grown heads of cauliflower can be left in the garden until you’re ready to use them. Here’s a winter-ready variety:
Radicchio is a wonderful and truly underrated winter crop. This lovely fancy leafy vegetable grows best in cool temperatures and overwinters well down to Zone 4! Radicchio regrows from its base (cut-and-come-again) for harvest again from the same plant when temperatures allow. It’s time to add this leafy gourmet veggie to the fall garden:
13. Collard Greens
Collard greens are an extremely cold-hardy (and heat-hardy) winter crop. They can withstand temperatures below freezing without cover in many areas, and certainly will overwinter with some season-extension in the coldest growing zones. Here is a classic garden heirloom collard to grow this winter:
14. Mâche (Corn Salad)
Mâche is a specialty winter crop grown for its lovely mini leafy greens. Also called corn-salad (for reasons unbeknownst to me), well-rooted mâche can tolerate extreme cold. It should, however, be planted in fertile, well-drained soils. Here is a lovely cold-tolerant variety to try:
Leeks are a classic winter crop as these plants can generally tolerate a few freezes. Like some of the other crops on this list, leeks also improve their flavour after a few frosts or even hard freezes. Leeks store well in the ground and can be harvested throughout winter as long as the ground is kept from freezing with a cold-frame or other cover. Try these types:
Arugula injects some flavour into crisp wintertime meals! This leafy green is well-suited to winter harvest (and is perfect in a salad or atop a freshly-made pizza). Be sure to include some arugula alongside your lettuce and spinach this fall!
Carrots are a natural biennial plant, and have evolved to survive in the ground over wintertime so they can flower the following summer. While the roots can withstand the freeze, the tops don’t tolerate it. It’s also pretty difficult to harvest carrots from frozen ground! For this reason, gardeners in cooler areas tend to cover their carrot crops with clear poly or a cold frame to encourage the area to stay warmer.
- Carnival Blend Gourmet Carrot Seeds (Organic)
- Cosmic Purple Carrot Seeds
- Scarlet Nantes Carrot Seeds (Organic)
Like carrots, parsnip roots survive in the ground throughout winter. And like many other root veggies, the cold weather improves the flavour by turning bland starches into sweet sugars! Parsnips truly are an excellent winter crop. Here are two to try:
19. Green Onions
Green onions are a favourite in the kitchen year-round. Scallion-type onions can be planted throughout the growing season, well into late-summer and early fall. Best of all, these plants are cut-and-come-again, which means that you can harvest the green tops from the same plant twice! This makes for a super space-saver (and yummy winter baked potato topping).
- White Lisbon Bunching Scallion Green Onion Seeds (Organic, Heirloom)
- Evergreen Bunching Scallion Green Onion Seeds (Organic)
Broccoli is frost tolerant, and tends to grow best in the cool temperatures of autumn. Certain types have been bred for cold-tolerance beyond a frost or two. Here are two varieties of broccoli that can be planted in the summer or early fall for a wintertime harvest:
Parsley is a biennial plant that’s naturally resistant to cold temperatures. While it is possible to grow herbs indoors in the winter, parsley does just fine with a bit of cover out in the garden. Who likes a yummy wintertime bowl of tabbouleh!? I like to grow both common types:
Rutabaga always seems to be an under-appreciated root vegetable. These sweet veggies can be mashed along with potatoes or roasted alongside a main dish in the oven. Wait for cold weather to arrive prior to harvesting your rutabagas, as it really does improve the flavour!
Turnips make a good winter crop as they get much sweeter once they’ve been exposed to cold temperatures. Sow in the early fall for winter harvests (smaller varieties will be ready in early winter, while larger types will take a little longer to mature). Here are two different but lovely winter turnips:
Chives are a perennial culinary herb in the onion family. These cold-hardy plants persist through cool temperatures and can be used in place of green onions. Plant them once and enjoy them forever!
25. Bok Choi
Bok Choi is a cold-loving green that’s quick to grow and versatile in cooking. There are a few different types of bok choi that overwinter particularly well (even a few that can be grown in containers in mild climates!):
Peas thrive in the crisp days of autumn, just as they do in the first dewy mornings of spring. They can be sown from late summer through wintertime for a continual winter crop of lovely homegrown peas:
Cilantro is another leafy green herb that grows best in cooler temperatures. Like parsley, it can also be grown indoors, but there’s every reason to leave some cilantro plants to overwinter out in the garden! Here’s one of the best all-round types to grow (year-round):
Chervil is another parsley-like herb that thrives in cooler temperatures. Along with the previously-mentioned chives, chervil is an important ingredient in the french gourmet cooking Fines Herbes blend. Here is the classic “fine herb” chervil for your year-round garden:
Happy winter gardening!!! (…from chilly Canada…)
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