As November closed in on the garden this year, I provided a little protection for a couple of my salad beds. Many salad plants are cold-hardy to well below freezing temperatures, but unprotected plants get battered by winter cold, wind and rain, and just never seem able to maintain enough vigor in the cold months to produce food.
A few weeks ago, I made a little shelter for my winter greens with a few pieces of bamboo and some floating row cover. You can see the details of the simple cover construction in the pictures. The row cover is inexpensive and reusable. Bamboo is my choice garden construction material, providing stakes, supporting poles, and fabric hold-downs.
It’s been long enough now that I’m able to really notice the difference between the plants left outside the row cover and those within. The lettuce especially is doing very nicely under the cover. Plants with leaves taken for Thanksgiving are still growing and providing more under the cover, whereas those outside are at a standstill.
Much of the winter challenge is providing protection as well as good air circulation. Individual plants need plenty of space, and I’ve found that the row cover with the ends open seems to work better than the bed where I closed down the ends.
Growth is slower in the winter, even with protection. But garden space is at less of a premium as well, so you can triple your salad garden space over the winter to still have plenty of fresh greens. Pests diminish as the temperatures drop. Even slugs, although present, don’t seem as much of a problem in the cold.
Varieties make a big difference for cold hardiness. My favorite winter lettuces are Continuity (a.k.a. Four Seasons), a red butter lettuce, and Arctic Density romaine. Other great winter greens include various mizunas and mustards, mache (a.k.a. corn salad), leafy endive, and arugula. Most of these greens will survive the winter without protection, but, with the little bit of help the row cover provides, you will get more to eat!
Nothing can beat the flavor of winter salad greens. Endives that are too bitter to eat in the summer become sweet and delicious. The cold brings out the sweetness in everything, and slower growth means more crunch to the lettuce leaves.