Easy, Fresh Greens in Winter: A Guide to Maritime Northwest Winter Gardening
Wondering how to feed yourself fresh greens, berries, and fruit in the maritime northwest winter without a greenhouse or a trip to the grocery store? It's not hard; it's about appropriate species and variety selection. Our maritime climate is kind to us gardeners, and we should give thanks by growing all year long, especially in winter when food is scarce. There are less pests to worry about in winter too, and no watering.
Below are some of the species and varieties that are reliable winter food. We grow these without any climate hacking, like plastic, just out in the open where it can get some of the sparse winter sunlight. Remember that most of these species don’t add new growth in winter, so it’s important to plant enough to harvest throughout the winter and not run out. You'll have to keep up with the slugs, though, just like in summer.
MIZUNA (Beni Houshi)
Annual but reseeds easily. Mizuna is well-adapted to both heat and cold extremes and is suitable for several harvests. The Ben Houshi variety has stems that are high in anthocyanin and superbly flavored. Sow no later than early October for winter harvesting. Eat the stems and leaves.
BOK CHOY (Purple Lady, Yellow Heart Winter Choy)
A culinary variety, Purple Lady has beautiful antioxidant-rich purple leaves that are quite juicy and flavorful. It will make your salad look nice too. Why not make a stir fry with the stems? Yellow Heart Winter Choy is very cold tolerant and tasty, and often used as an ornamental. Sow in fall for winter foraging in your frozen garden.
MACHE (aka: Corn Salad)
To my palette, the best tasting of all winter greens. Get them up to size before the hard cold hits and you'll be rewarded with a real delicacy. Sow in September and seed a lot of it. It’s petit.
KALE (Many varieties)
A must-have garden staple that grows as a biennial. Most varieties of kale overwinter, of course, but don't really grow. It’s necessary to sow plenty the season prior so that you can harvest all winter long. I find many of the "bor" varieties tough to eat raw, so focus on Lacinato and Russian red for winter salads. The tougher varieties can be tamed with a little braising or the blades of your Vitamix for smoothies.
MUSTARD GREENS (JAPANESE GIANT RED MUSTARD)
Ready for a spice punch in the face? My wife loves using these mustard greens with collards for a warm and spicy "collard greens" dish. Sharp garlic-like when raw but cooked down it adds pleasantly intense flavor to dishes. Throw it in the stir fry with the bok choy.
ARUGULA, Wild Rocket
Intense nutritional benefit and flavor in this wild green. According to Baker Creek: “The mouth-watering spicy flavor of these greens is an indicator of the presence of glucosinolates, which are broken down by the body into powerful compounds that scientists say have the ability to fight cell damage and even some cancers. Rocket is also replete with vitamins, especially A and K, as well as zeaxanthin and lutein, which have been shown to help with eye and vision health.”
Those hardy Nasturtium plants hanging on all winter...eat them. The whole plant is edible, not just the flowers. There is a fine "fuzz" on the leaves, which adds interesting texture. The flavor is good, but I don’t eat them for flavor. I eat them because it’s exciting to consume the whole plant and not waste any of it.
Beta vulgaris. You can't kill this perennial with a weed torch, and that’s quite all right. Chard is actually a type of beet without the edible roots. Try Fordhook, Rainbow, but many varieties are frost (and heat) tolerant. Sow in late summer for winter.
SPINACH (AMSTERDAM PRICKLY SEEDED)
A real stalwart. Slow bolter and long-season yielder. Sow late summer or early fall for harvest through autumn and into winter.
FRISÉE Endive or Curly Endive (BATAVIAN FULL HEART ENDIVE)
A real lover of the cold. One of the few plants I've seen actually add growth in our maritime NW winters. “A 2-cup serving contains 289 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin K! Endive also contains kaempferol, a flavonoid that may reduce the risk of certain cancers.” Sow early fall.
(LANDIS) Winter Lettuce
This is one of the hardiest, frost-resistant lettuces you can grow. It survived the Polar Vortex of 2013-2014. Sow 14” apart in early September for salad greens through December and January.
Eating fresh carrots in the winter is a treat. Oxheart is an excellent storage carrot that, because of its shape, does well in shallow soils. Sow in mid to late summer and do nothing until you are ready to harvest in winter.
BEETS (Fuer Kugel, Crosby’s Egyptian)
Who's not eating fresh roasted beets in the winter with goat cheese and balsamic? Many varieties will store in the ground throughout winter and give you plenty of delicious calories when you need them. Crosby’s Egyptian, like Oxheart carrot, is a flatter, shallower root, so it does well in shallow soils.
Take the beets you grew and eat the leaves. It's that easy.
COLLARDS (Morris Heading, Vates)
A superfood. Gets leathery in winter but your Vitamix can handle it. Morris Heading is a fast grower, and Vates is more compact in size. Both stand up well to the maritime climate.
A deciduous shrub. I pick sweet and delicious autumn olive berries in winter and make this reliably evergreen a part of my winter food security scheme. While it’s considered invasive in many parts of the world, I’ve never noted any volunteers. Burnt Ridge nursery, in their 30 years of growing them have only seen 2 volunteers. “The berries are high in vitamin A and E, bioactive compounds, minerals, flavonoids and proteins. Their lycopene content is the highest of any food and is being used in the prevention of heart disease and cancers and in the treatment of cancer. Cooking the fruit increases the lycopene content.”
A small tree or shrub that spread throughout Europe from the middle-east. The fruit is dessert on a branch, and another one that gets better with age. Medlar is easy to grow and produces at a young age. It’s not really bothered by pests and can tolerate a lot of abuse. Seeing a lonely, bare tree with fruit hanging on it is a beautiful sight to me.
Thanks for reading.