Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Winter Salad Bowl

by Jack Ruttle

Fresh salads are what many gardeners want most in winter. It seems an impossible task in cold-winter regions, where snow and frigid temperatures are common. Even in the mildest regions, where it is much easier to grow a range of salad crops through the winter, many gardeners unnecessarily let their gardens go fallow. But no matter where you live, according to Eliot Coleman of coastal Maine, a cold frame or tunnel greenhouse can put just-picked salads on the table through the coldest months.

Coleman discovered the secret to abundant winter harvests when he realized that the plants don't have to actually grow in winter. They only have to stay alive. The growing is done in late summer and autumn. Get the salad crops to edible size before serious cold arrives, then the frame can serve as an oversized crisper drawer through the dead of winter. A simple cold frame can do that for a wide range of salad crops.

The greens that I harvest in winter are plants that can stand freezing at night but then regain their firm, crisp texture when they thaw the next day. Lettuce doesn't take repeated freezing well, but arugula, claytonia, mache and mizuna do very well," notes Coleman. "We enjoy fresh salads all through January and February, from crops sown in August, September and October."

Coleman recommends one four- by eight-foot cold frame per person. A frame that size, full of well-grown salad crops at the start of winter weather, should provide enough salad for one person to pick every day.

The soil in frames should not be excessively rich. Coleman recommends one to two inches of high-quality compost worked lightly into the top inch of soil at the start of the season. No liquid fertilizers of any kind are needed. And once the frames are closed up, little watering is required, depending on the intensity of the sunlight.

The frames do need to be vented regularly, however. And if the gardener will be away during the day, it is better to err on the side of too cold than too warm. So open the frames if the weather is bright and the frames might get warmer than 70oF. Remember, the crops for the most part are already grown, and all are plants that can tolerate light freezing, in case the weather should change.

"Trying for an all-winter salad supply might sound like a chore," says Coleman. "But it becomes a small and comfortingly regular task, like gathering the mail or shopping for food. It is not at all unpleasant. I suggest that you try with one small bed, and see what you can do. You should get salads once a week or every other day. You may even find that you can get them every day like I do. These fresh salads may not seem like much at first but, I assure you, they will become one of the greatest pleasures your garden provides."

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