With the first frost comes the need to harvest most vegetables. Our cold room is stacked with fruit and vegetables chilling out till it’s time to be eaten. Some vegetables can be overwintered in the garden , but there are a few steps to managing the crops that are left out in the cold. This year we are overwintering carrots, beets and rutabaga in the garden.

Prepare the Beds

These root vegetables are pretty hardy if you protect them from heavy frost or deep freeze, but the first step is to prepare the beds for overwintering – and honestly, this is the hardest step – weeding. That’s right, no one wants to weed the garden beds in the fall when you are thinking about the winter that is coming, but if you don’t weed it, you are protecting not only the crops, but some of the weeds as well. (We didn’t do such a great job of weeding this year – I’ll let you know in the spring how bad it is!)

Mulch Mulch Mulch

We had a delivery of straw bales a few weeks ago, and these have been put to good use as mulch around the gardens, but one of the main uses is to overwinter our vegetables. In addition to this, we have a number of Birch trees around our property that drop piles of leaves and a number of these are used for garden mulch as well, the rest get mixed into one of our various compost piles.

When you mulch over these vegetables, the tops will typically still die down, but the roots will go dormant and be protected from freezing. I’d suggest doing the mulching in two stages, the first to get a layer down that covers the vegetables before the first heavy frost or snowfall, the second soon after to add additional coverage as the mulch flattens out the vegetable greens. We have rabbits, so we like to harvest some of the greens before mulching to add to their feed. The thicker the mulch, the better the protection, I’ve read that at least a foot of protection above the soil is adequate in most milder winter areas.

Mark Out the Rows

We get about two feet of snow on the ground here in winter, if you don’t mark out the extents of the rows, you’ll never find the vegetables again. We use the 6′ wooden stakes for this purpose, one at the centre of each row that is being overwintered. As the tops will have died down, it is important to remember where you are up to as you pull out vegetables over winter, if the ground is not too hard I’d suggest moving your row markers alongĀ  as you go.

This is just one way to enjoy fresh vegetables over the winter months, it requires a small investment of time and some planning, but I think these efforts are worth it for the results.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.