The Winter Garden – 10 Things to Do in Winter

Hot Bed Illustration

Winter can be tough on a gardener. All those long months of waiting for snow to melt and the sun to thaw out your soil can take a toll. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to get a jump on the spring planting season. Here are some of my favorite things to do while I wait out the long Rocky Mountain winters.

1. Plan for Spring Planting: Poring over seed catalogs is just the beginning. Will you buy plants or start your own seedlings? Do you have all the necessary items for starting seeds indoors? Do you have a calendar of dates to start each type of seeds so they are ready for that last frost? A little organization now can make things so much simpler. Be sure to take heed of any notes from last year. I know I tend to start seedlings too soon. Then they are just too leggy for proper growth. Once I started counting out the calendar based on real last frost, not just the USDA last frost dates, I had better luck.

2. Plan the Hardscaping Areas: You can also plan out garden and yard improvement projects to make your garden more comfortable. This is the time to focus on garden art, walkways, perhaps adding a new bench or putting in an outdoor kitchen area. Whatever you can dream up for your garden space, winter is a great time to make those plans. Even if the frozen soil mocks your desire to get your hands dirty, you can research, build some items in your garage, or simply buy the necessary parts now.

3. Research New Methods: Winter is the perfect time to read up on square foot gardening, espalier, worm composting, and other gardening methods that may be new to you. This will give you plenty of time to plan things out, make notes for spring, summer or fall, and generally get a handle on those new ideas you have always wanted to learn about.

4. Feed the Critters: Winter is tough on the feathered ones who add so much to our gardens. Winter is the time to pay them back for their songs, bug-eating habits, and generally liveliness they add to the garden. A few well-placed bird feeders will add winter interest to your yard and garden while helping to keep the birds fed. Water is also in short supply during the cold season. If you can, put out a water source that won’t freeze. An electric de-icer makes birds very happy in mid-winter!

5. Take a Walk: Spend some time really looking at your winter landscape. Are there colorful bushes you can add to the area that will enhance your winter view? Some bushes and trees sport beautiful colored branches or graceful shapes in mid-winter. Would rearranging a few things improve your view? By taking a hard look at your winter landscape you can make it more pleasing to the eye all year-round.

6. Sprout Some Seeds: Try gardening on a micro-scale. Seed-sprouting is one way to give your family healthy veggies all year. Broccoli, radish, mung bean, wheat and many other seeds make delicious and healthy sprouts. Try them in salads, stir-frys, and smoothies.

7. Look at Your Pantry: As you plan your summer harvest, think about what foods you use in winter. In addition to fresh veggies and fruits, your garden can help cover your winter food needs as well. Canned fruits and veggies make a real impact on our winter food budget. Canned homemade tomato soup and toast make a fabulous winter meal. Homemade salsa keeps our taste buds dancing, long after the tomato vines are but a memory. Jams and jellies brighten our shelves and our toast. Learning to can is simple and does not require a lot of equipment. Simpler still is freezing your garden excess. Zucchini bread, freezer jams, frozen soups, and fresh-frozen berries, peaches and peas are all simple ways to begin preserving your harvest.

8. Consider Indoor Gardening: Micro-gardening can be as simple as growing some lettuce mix in a shallow tray for baby greens or keeping a few fresh herbs potted on the window sill. More ambitious gardeners can grow whole feasts of hydroponic veggies under grow-lights. From simple to elaborate, you can keep gardening year-round.

9. Build a Hot Bed or Cold Frame: Depending on where you live, you can start putting plants out in a cold-frame or hot bed weeks before the last frost. A cold-frame is a very simple, small greenhouse. I have seen them made from a small window and a few boards, or they can be bigger and more detailed. They simply help shelter young plants from the icy blasts and crushing snows. You can even make one out of bales of straw with a window on top – though where I live that window would blow away!

10. Take a Vacation: Winter lets you get out of town without worrying about your garden. Take some time to visit friend and family out of town, or simply enjoy visiting local sites you never have time to see the rest of the year.

No matter how you decide to use your winter garden time, with a little inspiration you can make it a productive part of your garden.

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