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Winning choices for a cold season garden

Don't let winter stop your garden production

Cabbage is a versatile cold season crop. The bigger leaves can be picked and steamed in perpetual harvest, then the heads can be shredded for sauerkraut, Cole slaw or fresh salad.

We're all about self sufficiency, and the best way to stay away from the grocery store and high food bills is to keep your kitchen garden going year 'round. While there are soft lines defining warm season and cold season veggies, in many areas, many greens can produce throughout the winter, and other veggies grow best during the cold months.

For example, some lettuce varieties will bolt in the heat, and you will have a narrow window of harvest. During the cooler months, you can keep many greens growing and just harvest a leaf or two off of each plant rather than cutting the whole plant. Pests struggle in the cooler months, and pest prone plants like brocolli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage, all attractive to aphids, are unlikely to experience aphid infestations that often occur in the hot months.

Kale is an awesome "perpetual" harvest vegetable loaded with vitamins. Cold hardy kale can grow all winter long if you just pinch a leaf or two per plant for your dinner.

Other popular veggies for a cold season garden include radishes, chard and spinach.

Part of maxing out the productivity of your garden also means using the cold season months for planting cold resistant veggies like carrots, onions, leeks and even potatoes, though potatoes may not do well if they get too wet.

And speaking of wet, that's one of the big advantages of a winter garden. You won't have to water as frequently, with rain supplementing and cooler temperatures slowing down evaporation.

While cold season vegetables are cold hardy, they may still need some protection during the coldest parts of the winter. A simple portable cold frame can make the difference on sub-freezing nights, as well as raise daytime temperatures for more rapid growth.

Also, while the mature, hardened plants can withstand cold temps, getting your seeds started might be tough if you wait too long in the fall. Most gardeners staying ahead of the game start their winter gardens in August and September. The colder temperatures of October and later can make for slow seed germination, and seedlings can succumb to freezing temps. You can also start plants indoors and move them out when they are old enough to withstand the cold temperatures. "Hardening" the plants off is important, allowing them to get used to the direct sun and cold nights.

Another important tip that you'll need is to plan your plantings so the winter veggies won't interfere with your spring planting. Slower growth rates might mean a harvest later than planned, so it's best to put the winter veggies in a different area than your summer veggies so you don't have to pull the plug on producing winter plants to get your warm season plants in the ground. Plus, if you like to amend your soil in the winter to restore nutrients the plants use up, or if you plant winter cover crops, you're winter garden can cramp your style.

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