True Winter Vegetables

by | Aug 4, 2020

In the Lower Mainland and the Valley, fast crops, like lettuce, some brassicas, peas, beans, radishes, Swiss chard, and beets, can easily go in now, especially from started crops or transplants, for harvesting from September through next March and beyond.

In Southwestern BC, our vegetable gardens can be producing twelve months a year, and even in some colder parts of the province, selective planting can be done. Potted perennial vegetables, like horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, and rhubarb, can be planted now. Perennial herbs, like mint, parsley, chives, marjoram, and oregano, can also be planted for some late fall and early spring additions to your culinary dishes. September is also the best time to plant garlic for next year.

Seeds for winter-hardy varieties are widely available from West Coast Seed racks, but the closer we get to mid/late August, the more you will need to rely on transplants.

Transplants should ideally be planted by the end of the month so that they can be enjoyed from late October and November through to the end of next February. These winter-hardy varieties are mostly from Europe and are bred to tolerate the wet and cold winter temperatures of zone 6 or higher. Timing is the secret to success – the sooner you get them in, the better.

Above: Purple Sprouting Broccoli; below: Red Bor Kale

Getting Started

So, what to grow? The list of winter crops is extensive, but these are the mainstream varieties that folks are really beginning to appreciate. Here is a list of what is most readily available.

Beets: ‘Winterkeeper’ is one of the best winter varieties and has large round, very sweet roots.

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

Cabbage: ‘January King’, ‘Lennox’ and ‘Deadon Savoy’ are all very winter hardy and some of the finest cabbages available.  Can be harvested January through February.

Carrots: ‘Atlas’ is a sweet, globe-shaped baby carrot that matures in about 75 days.

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

Collards: ‘Georgia’ and ‘Tiger’ are loved for their sweet flavours and bolt-resistant natures, respectively. Both can be harvested well into spring and sometimes even early summer!

Endive: Preferring the colder temperatures to grow into their delightful, bitter flavour, endives thrive with a fall planting and a winter harvest to produce the best flavour.

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

spring. ‘Lacinato’, also known as dinosaur kale, produces large, black leaves that look entirely unique. And ‘Winter Blend’ offers a variety of cold-tolerant kales that have a sweet, succulent flavour after frost.

Kohlrabi: An ancient relative of brassicas, its flavour improves with frosts. Both ‘Superschmeltz’ and ‘Konan’ are quite hardy, but need some protection in severe, zone 6 cold.

Leeks: ‘Bandit’ and ‘Curling’ are some 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’ and ‘Silvia’ have beautiful, tasty red leaves, but need protection during the coldest part of winter. And the ‘Winter Blend Mescluns’ perfectly combine all the unique and interesting flavours of your favourite leafy greens for a perfect salad.

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

Peas: ‘Green Arrow’ and ‘Cascadia’ are a perfect choice for snacking or salads, with crisp, sweet flavours that are just the right amount of juicy. Both prefer the cold to the warmth.

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

Scallions: With a bold flavour that shine in salads, ‘Ramrod’ makes an excellent addition to fresh wintertime meals. ‘Pacific 22’ offers a slightly milder taste that is just right for cooking into hearty, cold weather dishes.

Right: Bright Lights Swiss Chard

Spinach: ‘Space’ and ‘Bloomsdale’ are perfect for winter growing with a little protection in severe cold.

Swiss Chard: ‘Bright Lights’ is very winter hardy once established. It boasts amazing flavours and will beautify your garden with its colourful stems.

Turnips: Along with Rutabagas, once established, ‘Purple Top White Globe’ 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.

When we get some severe cold (below -10°C), a simple mulching of root crops with sawdust or bark mulch helps greatly. A new cloth cover, called ‘N-Sulate’, can also make a 6-8°C difference in protection.

Winter gardening is fun and truly a great source of winter food and nutrition. Perhaps best of all, it’s exhilarating to harvest fresh produce from your garden during some of the darkest days of the year. With all these benefits and more, it’s worth it to try… we’re sure you’ll love it!