It is interesting to see the reactions of most people when you tell them that you are planning to grow something in the winter. At the outset of this endeavor I was told by multiple people that “it won’t work” and in my own mind I wasn’t quite sure if it would either, seeing as our high tunnel is tucked up against the north side of Pine Mountain, where sunlight during the winter months can be somewhat of a rare commodity and bone chilling coldness tends to be in ample supply. Nevertheless, what began as an experimental attempt has turned out to be quite worth the effort.
I did not begin working at PMSS until the end of September 2014 and consequently did not have the opportunity to prepare the high tunnel and sow any seed until the last week of October. Ideally I would have tried to get this done during the first week of October to allow for a bit more growth before the day light hours drastically decreased.
Inside the high tunnel, I formed two 36” x 30’ raised bed rows, incorporated compost, sand (leafy greens tend to like well drained soils) and organic fertilizer. Over one of the rows I constructed pvc hoops to support Agribon ag-19 row cover for extra frost protection. Over the other row I simply placed the cover directly on the plants (this was to compare row cover methods). I also mulched heavily with straw between the rows to provide dead air space and act as an insulator. The combination of high tunnel plastic, row cover and straw mulch have proven to protect plants even on nights when temperatures have plummeted into the negatives (last week I recorded a temperature of -16° F on my front porch and only one variety of lettuce seems to be showing mild frost damage). I used multiple varieties of lettuce, kale, collards, spinach, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, and chard (basically anything that I thought had a chance of making it through the winter). Good germination occurred and I saw excellent growth before the days began to get too short. Getting strong well established plants before growth slows significantly, seems to be a major factor in successful winter production. Each variety was marked, with the goal of tracking their success to determine which varieties performed best in my particular growing environment.
One of the most interesting experiences I believe one can have in respect to gardening is the harvest of fresh produce in the dead of winter, while there is snow on the ground. To say the least I have learned some things from this experience and I hope to improve upon it in the coming years.
Some advantages of winter high tunnel production:
- Extended harvest periods
- Late Harvest
- Early Harvest
- Very little input required
- Virtually no pest pressure
- Water consumption reduced
- Disease pressure drastically diminished
- Increased quality
- Reduced pest and disease pressure results in “good looking” plants
- Flavor and crispness tend to be improved
There are lots of good resources to guide you in a winter production venture. The University of Kentucky’s publication “High Tunnel Leafy Greens and Herbs” is one such resource and here is the link for it http://www.uky.edu/Ag/CCD/introsheets/hightunnelgreens.pdf.