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Use your downtime in December and January to tackle these winter gardening jobs for the vegetable garden. That includes crops to sow, plant, and harvest, and projects to give you a head start on the growing year!
In December and January, the pace slows down considerably in the garden. Lower light levels and cold temperatures slow down growth, and inclement weather often keeps us indoors. For some of us, the ground will be frozen at least some of the time, which limits what we can do in our winter garden. Despite this, there are still many winter gardening jobs to do in the vegetable garden.
The time we spend outside this time of year always feels very special: The crisp mornings when our breath hangs in the air and the watery sunshine glints through bare tree branches. It’s a magical time of year. If you’ve thought ahead, there are even crops to harvest: leeks, cabbage, beets, and yacon, a large root vegetable. Here are even more reasons to get outside and enjoy the garden in winter.
Winter Gardening Jobs Checklist
Winter gardening jobs for the vegetable garden focus on harvesting crops, mulching garden beds, and planting dormant plants.
- Sow garlic
- Sow onion seeds
- Harvest winter cabbage
- Harvest leeks
- Harvest potatoes
- Plant spring bulbs
- Plan your spring planting
- Order/swap seeds
- Plant bare-root shrubs
Seeds to Sow in Winter
Due to the cold conditions and low light levels, we are somewhat limited on what we can sow in December and January. However, there are still a few options. At this time of year, what you can sow outdoors or indoors will depend on whether the ground is frozen or not. Even if the ground is not frozen, you may still prefer to grow broad beans (fava beans) undercover if your vegetable garden is exposed to strong winds, as they can be very damaging as the plants get bigger.
|Zones 2-10||Undercover: onion seeds, broad beans (fava beans), sweet peas, lambs lettuce, microgreens, chilies|
What to Harvest in Winter
The food that we are harvesting now is hearty and nutrient-dense. If you still have some of the crops listed below growing in your garden by mid-December, you should be in for a lovely Christmas lunch! In colder climates, you may have to harvest and store your crops to make them last through winter, as prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures can kill even some hardy crops. This can be mitigated by using cloches or fleece to protect some crops.
In warmer latitudes (zone 7 and up), you should find that many of your winter crops survive sub-zero temperatures with little or no protection. Some crops, such as those below, can be harvested throughout the winter as you need them.
Winter Crops from the Vegetable Garden
- Winter cabbage
- Winter hardy lettuce
- New Zealand yams (oca)
- Brussels sprouts
Winter Gardening Jobs
Many of the jobs from our November Garden jobs list are still relevant in December. It’s certainly not too late to get your secateurs out and prune old wood out of your fruit trees to protect them from winter storms or add nets to your brassicas to protect them from pigeons. It is also not too late to start making leaf mold. If there are any autumn jobs that you haven’t done yet, December is the time to catch up.
Remember to look after your wildlife during December and January by keeping your bird feeders well stocked and your bird bath ice-free. Leaving piles of sticks, logs, and fallen leaves can also help provide animals with places to hibernate, so be sure not to disturb these places during winter. One of my favorite wild animals that lives in the garden is hedgehogs. They sleep all winter long in piles of leaves or in brush, so I’m careful not to disturb them. I also avoid touching the compost heap during winter since I’ve found frogs overwintering in my pile in winters past.
Planning Next Year’s Veg Patch
Winter is perfect for planning your vegetable garden for the coming year. You can set about building beds and structures, planting trees, bushes, and shrubs, and sourcing seeds. You may want to organize a seed swap in your local community. This is a great way to get seeds for free and share any spare seeds you may have. Seed swaps are also brilliant for connecting with other gardeners.
Mulching can be done at any time during winter. This can be done using compost, manure, or purpose-made mulch. You could also use pre-prepared leaf mold if you have any. Mulching in winter will help protect your soil and prepare for the growing season ahead.
Order and Plant Bare-Root Plants
One of our winter gardening jobs is to plant bare-root fruit trees and bushes, shrubs, and strawberry plants. You can do this as long as the ground isn’t frozen and it’s clear of snow. That means that some people can plant all winter long, and some will need to wait until late winter to early spring.
It is much cheaper to use bare-root plants to bulk out your collection of berries, in particular. Raspberries, loganberries, and many more are available as bare-root in the winter and are often thirty percent cheaper than pot-grown plants. Asparagus crowns and rhubarb can also be purchased bare-root and planted in the winter.
To plant a bare-root fruit tree, bush, or bare-root shrub, you should first soak the roots in a bucket of water for half an hour. This will help to rehydrate the roots. Next, dig a hole large enough to fit the roots and spread them out if possible. Ensure you are not forcing the roots into a hole that isn’t big enough for them.
Insert your tree, bush, or shrub into the hole, and make sure that it is upright and facing the way you want it. Sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi pellets on to give the plant a good head-start in life (optional step, though), then backfill with soil. Add a thick layer of compost or manure mulch to the top of the soil around the base of your plant to give it some extra help getting established.
Starting a New Vegetable Garden
Planning your vegetable garden can be either an exciting or a daunting task. It can either involve deciding what you will sow and where you will plant it, or it could mean planning a whole new vegetable patch. If you are new to gardening, avoid these easy mistakes. I also recommend sketching your ideas out on paper. At the very least, it helps with the thought process. If you’d like to have a to-scale plan of your growing space, have a piece on how to draw a simple garden plan that will help.
Start by thinking about your main structures: shed, greenhouse, polytunnel, whatever you want to have and where these will go. Pick the sunniest spots for your greenhouse or polytunnel and put your shed in a less desirable location. You may also want to put a structure in or plant some trees or bushes to provide some shelter if your garden is in a windy spot.
Think about how you will walk around your vegetable garden. Paths in a vegetable garden should be direct, as you will find you take the direct route sometimes, whether there is a path or not.
Next, think about where to put your beds. Make sure they are in sunny spots, and if you intend to grow things vertically, these won’t overshadow other crops. Think about how you want to use the vegetable beds and orientate them so that your crops will get the maximum sun. Remember to ensure that your beds are accessible for planting, sowing, and harvesting, so don’t make them too wide.
Planning an Established Vegetable Garden
An established and built vegetable garden is easier to plan, as you only have to think about what you want to grow and where you will plant things. You may consider companion planting to maximize your crops for next year.
Creating a seed-sowing plan is also one of those fantastic winter gardening jobs that will help you once spring arrives. It’s a month-by-month or week-by-week plan of what seeds to sow. You can begin by sorting through your current seed inventory and flipping through seed catalogs. If you don’t have the seeds you need, order seeds now. It’s also a good idea to plan when you will sow, plant, and harvest these crops. This allows you to determine where there may be gaps in your beds that can be filled so you can have seedlings ready to plug those spaces.
Plan Where You’ll Grow Summer Crops
Start by drawing a diagram of your vegetable garden, including the sun’s direction and the prevailing wind, if necessary. Then, list all the things you would like to grow in your garden. Determine how much of these things you are likely to use to avoid planting too little or too much of a single crop.
Next, plan where you will put things. This may take some time as you will want to think about how to make the most out of the space. Think about using spaces between slow-growing crops to grow faster crops such as radish. You may also want to consider using the understorey in some cases, such as increasing squashes under sweetcorn.
Winter Garden Projects
As you plan the coming year’s vegetable garden, you might be considering some new raised beds or other new structures. In winter there is less urgency in caring for your plants, so you should have time on your hands to build. A brilliant creative project is to make spent raspberry cane garden edging. This is fun to do, and the end product is practical and will give a fantastic rustic look to your garden.
If you want to build vertical structures in your garden, you can make willow plant supports. These are fabulous for growing sweet peas, beans, cobaea, hops or squash. For more indoor projects, you can learn how to weave your own weave willow baskets to store next year’s harvests. You can also make DIY newspaper plant pots.
Garden Jobs for February
In February, we can begin thinking about starting seeds undercover. It’s an ideal time to start slow-growing crops such as eggplant, chillies and peppers that will need a long growing season. These will need to be sown on heat mats and kept in a frost-free greenhouse or on a windowsill. Using grow lights in February can help provide these seedlings with the light they need to not go leggy.
February is also an excellent time for mulching your garden if you haven’t already. This will help the soil to warm up slightly for some direct sowings the following month. In the vegetable garden, a good way to mulch is to cover the soil with a half-inch layer of compost. This could be mushroom compost, aged manure, or homemade garden compost. For even more things you can do at the beginning of the growing year, head over to February Garden Jobs.
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