5 Vegetables to Start in Winter

February 8, 2019

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Many vegetables can be seeded by late winter to give you a super-early start. Here are 5 vegetables that you can start growing now, and we demonstrate how to get the best return from these early-season crops.

For the vegetable grower, winter can be a frustrating time of year with several weeks still to go before the official start of the growing season. If you’re craving fresh home-grown produce, good news: many vegetables can be sown by late winter to give a super-early start.

Pea Shoots

Peas can germinate at temperatures as low as 39 degrees Fahrenheit which makes them an excellent starting point. Growing peas for shoots is an easy way to get a fresh hit of flavor within just a few weeks. Pea shoots taste just like peas and are packed full of nutrients.

Pick a vigorous, tall-growing variety to give plenty of leafy growth. Start the seedlings off in a greenhouse or cold frame, sowing two to three seeds per pot or module cell. Once the seedlings have filled their modules they can be planted out to leave 8 inches between each clump. Cover the newly planted shoots with horticultural fleece to help them get going. Pick little and often by snipping off just above the second set of leaves.

Salad Leaves

Many leafy salads such as winter-hardy lettuces and endive can be sown inside a greenhouse or cold frame, or under row covers or cloches. Alternatively you can sow into modules and grow on before planting out into greenhouse borders or containers. Space plants at least 10 inches apart to give them plenty of room. Pick just a few leaves from each plant at a time to avoid exhausting the plant.

Other early-rising salads include Oriental leaves such as mizuna and mustard, cilantro, corn salad (also known as lamb’s lettuce or mâche), and the fleshy leaves of winter purslane (miner’s lettuce).

Cabbages

Starting off cabbage this soon in the season has its advantages: slugs are thinner on the ground and you’ll enjoy a cut of vitamin-rich leaves by early summer—way ahead of spring-sown cabbages.

As with any early-sown vegetables, choose varieties suited to sowing in cooler weather. Sow into module trays then plant out once the young plants have established, usually within four to six weeks. Plant them 9 inches apart.

Spinach

Spinach is ready to sow under cover from late winter, as light levels start to improve from their midwinter low. Spinach is crammed full of vitamins and iron, making it a valuable crop for health as well as taste.

Sow directly into containers of potting soil or into modules or pots for planting out a few weeks later. Set three to four seeds per module for planting out 6 inches apart. When the plants are growing more vigorously you can pick a few leaves from each plant at a time, allowing replacement leaves to grow. In this way you’ll enjoy several harvests from each plant.

Green Onions (or Scallions)

Hardy varieties of green onions, also known as scallions, can be sown directly into fertile, well-drained soil. Sow seeds thinly in rows 6 inches apart. The seedlings shouldn’t need thinning out if they are sown thinly enough. You can also sow three seeds per module to plant out at 3in (7cm) apart in both directions.

Place covers over your green onions to help them along. Depending on your local climate and weather, the first stems will be ready by mid spring, when most gardeners will only just be starting to think about getting them underway.

Cold Protection

In most cases you will need to offer your early risers some form of cold protection—particularly in snowy regions. The main priority is to raise the soil temperature high enough for successful germination while holding off the worst of frosts.

Greenhouses and hoop houses (polytunnels) trap the heat very efficiently, making them several degrees warmer, especially on sunny days. They create a microclimate that’s at least one month ahead. Cover seedlings with bubble wrap or horticultural fleece to trap daytime heat overnight.

Young plants raised in pots or modules will need acclimatizing to colder temperatures before they are planted outdoors. Cold frames can make a handy halfway house. Lift off the lids during the day then replace at night. Do this over the course of a week to ready them for planting.

Outdoors, row tunnels, cloches or horticultural fleece will help lift the growing temperature enough for newly planted or direct-sown vegetables to thrive. Lay covers over the ground at least two weeks beforehand to raise soil temperatures in advance and reduce sudden cold shock.

Protection Against Pests

It doesn’t take much to protect plants from hungry pests. In most cases starting seedlings under cover will avoid slug and mouse damage. Make it easier to spot and destroy slugs by picking off any dead or yellowed leaves and by keeping the ground between plants free of weeds, then check regularly after dark or lay beer traps to drown them. If mice become a problem under cover you may need to resort to a few strategically placed humane mousetraps - or talk nicely to the neighborhood cat!

Outside, birds such as pigeons and sparrows can attack young shoots of vegetables such as cabbage and peas. Don’t let them compromise your early start – set up netting covers if necessary to keep your crops safe.

With a little protection from the cold there’s no reason to delay sowing until spring. Sneak a head start and you’ll be harvesting fresh produce weeks in advance. Please share your own experiences of growing extra-early vegetables by leaving a comment below.

After you watch the video, why not take a look at our online Garden Planner? Get a free 7-day trial for Mac or PC—ample time to plan your garden.

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Reader Comments

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Planting guide

Why can't I put my address in and get a plant guide . It keeps saying that I have a wrong address

Guide

The Editors's picture

Hi Patty, We’re not clear which guide you are interested in getting. Can you provide more information? Or, just email us at: AlmanacEditors@yankeepub.com

scallions

...saving scallion roots is a great way to double down on grocery purchases during the winter! Cut 1" away from scallion on the too end and place 1/2 way in soil, 1/2 above. Water every other day or each day if soil becomes too dry. In 3-5 weeks, scallions are ready to harvest! Leave 1" behind for regrowth!

scallions

--> typo in last post:

Cut 1" away from scallion on the root end... (not "too" end!) ;0!

Bell peppers

Due to health issues, last year I was noticeably delayed in my planting. When my growing season was at an end, my pepper plants were just hardy plants not producing plants. The plants looked so nice I couldn't let them freeze( as I live in Winnipeg, MB) so I talked to my oldest sister, she let me know pepper plants could be brought in over winter. Move ahead to February and I have five peppers on one plant and numerous peppers on other plants. Come summer I should have a delicious bunch of peppers. I have learned a valuable lesson and I will bring my plants in for future winters. Thank you for all your videos and gardening help, till next time, Kevin Henley

Winter Time Seeding

I really enjoyed the article. Although not in my country the same applies to all areas. We plant broccoli, cabbage, onions, lettuce and kale during the beginning of winter. We have to wrap it up in Jan - Feb, but right back growing sugar snap peas in early March. If you are not growing in the winter your missing out!

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