When young Niki Jabbour lived in a Dalhousie University dorm full of plants, she hadn’t expected that a few decades later she would be traveling across North America to write books and give lectures on growing vegetables in winter.
Jabbour is a Halifax-based “Winter Vegetables and Winter Garden Expert” and runs the Savvy Gardening blog. The blog talks about everything from a mini hoop tunnel,cold-hardy vegetables, and root vegetables to how mini hoop tunnels can help you in the growing season.
When a storm approaches, says Jabbour, the gardeners don’t have to worry; they just need to make sure that cold frames, mini hoop tunnels, row cover, mini tunnels, and other structures are strong. After a storm, she said that large amounts of snow should be brushed off so that sunlight could reach the plants.
Although it’s a low-maintenance activity, many gardeners have to think about their cold winter harvest crop in the lower temperatures, Jabbour said.
“If you think, ‘You know what, I want carrots for the winter,’ then you have to plant a bed of carrots,” she said. “So it’s kind of a second planting season. Besides that, it’s a lot less work to harvest all winter long. “
Jabbour’s edible gardening winter crops are grown according to vegetable variety.
“Some take months to grow while others are growing fast,” Jabbour said.
In midsummer, she plants cereals such as carrots, kale, broccoli, and beets; Lettuce leaves are usually planted in late autumn. That year she had her first winter harvest between late December and early January. this way she can garden year-round and grow vegetables regardless of springtime or cold winter.
Your second winter crop will be planted four to six weeks before the first expected frost for good success.
She wants to harvest again in March.
Garden through the cold winter
Winter gardening in Nova Scotia can be a challenge, but it’s far from impossible. With the right preparation, you can enjoy a winter harvest of fresh vegetables. The key is to choose the right crop for the conditions so you have an all-seasons approach. Some vegetables, such as spinach and winterbor kale, actually thrive in the colder weather. Others, such as tomatoes and peppers, need a little extra care. For winter gardening success, make sure to protect your plants from frost damage by covering them with frost cloth or row covers. You’ll also need to water them regularly, as winter weather can quickly dry out the soil. With a little effort, winter gardening can be a fun and productive way to enjoy fresh produce all year round.
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In 2011, she released the award-winning The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, which sold over 100,000 copies. She has since published two more books and is working on a fourth.
“You go to the grocery store and look at those little lettuce green packages and boxes and most of them are from California; they can all be grown all winter here in Nova Scotia, ”said Jabbour.
In October 2001, Jabbour found that their arugula plant still looked quite green despite the early autumn frost.
She covered it with an old piece of garden cloth (you can use a bed sheet) called a “Row Cover” and was able to harvest it by Christmas of that year.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this plant is pretty hardy’ and thought of other vegetables I could harvest,” said Jabbour.
She now harvests up to 30 different types of vegetables in winter, including brussels sprouts, leeks, kale, root vegetables, and various types of lettuce which is a winter marvel. Not only will the heartiest vegetables survive, she says, but the tender ones are also surprisingly strong too.
When it comes to vegetables that come in varieties like lettuce, Jabbour said do your research before planting.
“If there’s Winter Density, Winter Kings, or Winter Wonders, I’m pretty sure that will be good for winter, so I’m definitely paying attention to diversity, not just the general type of harvest,” Nikki Jabbour said.
Celery root or celeriac is a common vegetable that Jabbour harvests in winter. You can even get a vegetable garden tool kit from amazon to start off your winter harvesting.
Materials for your Winter Gardening”
When it comes to protecting plants from the elements, Jabbour uses a variety of methods and materials from a mini hoop tunnel to a portable polycarbonate cold frame.I have been using this from Amazon and this has held up well during the harsh -25 C winters. I keep it out in cold Canadian winters for a few years now and it’s held up fine. It is against a tall fence and heavily weighed down, it can’t be said enough how important it is to keep it well anchored down.
“It’s easiest if you have root crops in your garden this fall, like carrots, beets or parsnips, things like leaves or straw,” she said.
“I usually put an old sheet over it just to keep the straw or leaves in place, and if we want them in winter we just slide the covers back and reach down and pull out some roots.”
Jabbour then uses a portable polycarbonate cold frame (short, small four-sided wooden structure like a greenhouse) to protect the plants. They often have a removable glass or plastic panel to help reach sunlight to the summer-sown salad greens.
Cold frames and mulch make conservatory work ideal, she said. Cold frames are inexpensive because they can be made from recycled materials and mulch which is free. They help your plants from cold to dense frost during the winter gardening season.
“You can also use mini hoop tunnels, which are just a piece of PVC pipe bent over one of your garden beds,” Jabbour said. “You can cover these with plastic so you can have that little mini-greenhouse over one of your raised beds and they’ll last for years.”
To grow even more winter crops, Jabbour recently added a polytunnel to their garden. A polytunnel is a walk-in steel greenhouse that is covered with polyethylene, which stores the heat from the sun. In the polytunnels, your raised beds will be converted into mini-hoop tunnels. Whether you are a weekend gardener or not, polytunnels help keep the heat in during harsh winters and protect your winter crop.
“Less maintenance for Winter Harvest”
While frost is usually not good for exposed or unprotected plants, the cold actually has a positive effect on these winter vegetables.
“It’s like a botanical antifreeze; it protects the plant, it lasts longer in the winter, and it tastes better, which is amazing, ”said Jabbour.
It also discourages animal interference. Jabbour said nudibranchs and deer are two of the biggest summer gardening problems. In winter, the polyethylene and other shields keep the animals from feeding on the plants.
“Because the vegetables are covered with mulch or a cold frame or a mini hoop tunnel, the deer can’t reach the vegetables, neither can rabbits or marmots, and it’s too cold for snails or other garden pests,” Jabbour said. “So it’s actually a very quiet time.”