COLUMN: Now’s the time for winter vegetables

Last week was really the last call for vegetable transplants to be set out in your garden for harvest this fall.

  • Sep. 8, 2015 4:00 p.m.

Gardening by Brian Minter

Last week was really the last call for vegetable transplants to be set out in your garden for harvest this fall. Of course, you can still enjoy fast crops like many lettuces and greens for some time to come, but now is the critical time to set out transplants of the true winter vegetables that can be enjoyed from late October and November through to the end of next February.

These winter hardy vegetables are mostly from Europe and are bred to tolerate the wet and cold winter temperatures of zone 6 or higher. Timing, however, is the secret to success. The sooner you get them in, the better. The trick, particularly with brassicas, is not growing them too large, making them more susceptible to frost damage, and not planting them too late, thus not allowing their crowns or heads enough time to size up.

So what to grow? Here is a list of the most readily available winter varieties.

Arugula: One of the best winter veggies, it is slow to bolt in cooler weather. It needs protection during cold spells.

Beets: ‘Winterkeeper’ and ‘Lutz’ are the best winter varieties and have large round, very sweet roots.

Broccoli: ‘Purple Sprouting’ and ‘Red Spear’ have small, very sweet purple heads that can be harvested in late February/March.

Cabbage: ‘January King’ is very winter hardy and one of the finest cabbages available. Can be harvested January through February.

Carrots: ‘Autumn King’ needs good drainage. Frosts makes them even sweeter.

Cauliflower: ‘Galleon’ has pure white heads that grow slowly in late winter for harvest in February/March.

Celeriac: This vegetable should be growing already, but once established, it is very cold hardy.

Chicory: ‘Palla Rossa’ is quite winter hardy with a little protection during cold spells.

Corn Salad: This is one of the hardiest salad greens. It is crisp and mild and its flavour improves with frost.

Kale: ‘Winter Bor’ and ‘Red Bor’ are truly amazing winter garden plants that will produce leaves until spring.

Kohlrabi: An ancient relative of brassicas, its flavour improves with frosts. It is quite hardy but needs some protection in severe zone 6 cold.

Leeks: ‘Bandit’ is one of the great winter crops, maturing slowly. Bury them deeper for more white stems. They are a treat in late winter.

Lettuce: ‘Winter Density’ makes delicious salads all winter. ‘Rouge d’Hiver’ has beautiful, tasty red leaves. They need protection during the coldest part of winter.

Onion: ‘Walla Walla’, one of the hardiest onions, if planted now will size up nicely for late spring harvesting. You can also rob a few for late winter soups.

Parsnips: ‘Lancer’ and ‘Gladiator’ can still be transplanted for winter enjoyment. They become sweeter with frosts and can be harvested in late winter.

Spinach : ‘Renegade’ is perfect for winter growing with a little protection in severe cold.

Swiss Chard: ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Celebration’ are very winter hardy once established. Both have amazing flavours and will beautify your garden with colourful stems.

Turnips and Rutabagas: Once established, they are very winter hardy and their flavour improves with frosts. They will need protection in severe cold but even so, they are a great winter crop.

There are many other winter crops, but these are the mainstream varieties that folks are really beginning to appreciate. When we get some severe cold (below -10°C) a simple mulching of root crops with sawdust or bark mulch helps greatly and a new cloth cover, called ‘N-Sulate’, can make a 10°C difference in protection.

Brian Minter is a Chilliwack resident and  gardening expert.