Growing food in the winter can be a challenge. But even with the decreased light and temperatures, you don’t have to give up growing your own. There are a few things, mostly leafy greens, that can be grown indoors or out, during the winter.
Basic rule of thumb: Full sun for Fruit. Less sun for Leaves.
Meaning that anything that produces an edible leaf can be grown during the shorter days of winter. You may have to grow your plants under row covers or in hoop houses, or in pots. Choose southern-exposed areas that get as much sun (and heat) as possible. For the outdoors plants, mulching well will help protect roots.
Try some of the greens listed below. They can all be successfully grown in a pot through the winter, and some of them can be grown outdoors with row covers or in hoop houses or hot houses.
One reminder for winter growing… be careful not to overwater! Whether you’re growing them indoors or outside under protection, your plants won’t be exposed to as much wind or sun, so they won’t need to be watered as often.
Try one (or more) of these:
- Pea greens
- Garden Sorrel
- Mache/Corn Salad
- Salad Burnet
- Land cress
Pea greens are a definite favorite of mine. With less light, the pea plant likely won’t produce peas (you may get the oddball), but the shoots and leaves still have that wonderful English pea flavor.
A bushing variety, like Little Marvel, grows well in pots indoors, or you could try growing them outdoors under row covers in an area where they’ll be protected from harsh winds, taking care that they get as much light as possible.
If you harvest only the tips of the shoots, starting at around 3 weeks after sowing, you can ‘cut and come again’. Buy the seeds in bulk, sow them densely, and you’ll have plenty of pea shoots to add to your salads.
Mizuna is a mustard green from Asia. It has a peppery flavor, typical of the mustard family, though milder than arugula. It can grow outdoors in some areas, with protection, or indoors in a pot as a cut-and-come-again green.
There are a few different varieties of mizuna. If you’re looking for an ornamental one that’s also edible, you could try Red Streaked Mizuna.
Garden or large leaf sorrel is another of my favorites. I love the lemony tang of the leaves.
It is quite easy to grow in a pot all winter long, as long as you put it in a southern-facing window sill where it will get some sun. It roots deeply, so give it a good, deep pot to grow in.
The best bit? It’s a perennial green, so plant it out in your garden in the spring.
Some fennels are non-bulbing, such as Grosfruchtiger fennel, and can be grown purely for the stems and leaves which have a sweet, anise flavor. Bulbing fennels can also be grown purely for the leaves, though they may not do as well in a pot as a non-bulbing variety.
For extra color, try growing bronze fennel.
Not forgetting lettuce. You can grow lettuce greens in a pot and harvest them as microgreens; tender greens; or as a full-size lettuce. Try some of these – ruby lettuce, amish deer tongue lettuce, and summer crisp lettuce.
Basil might not be one you’d consider as a salad green – but why not? We love slicing basil into thin slivers and mixing them into a salad. It adds a considerable depth of flavor.
There are several different types of basils you could grow: Italian basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil…
Basils germinate easily from seed, and can also be harvested as microgreens.
Mache, generally known as corn salad in America, has a nice, mild-flavored green and grows in tidy bunches that are easy to harvest.
There are two basic varieties of mache – large-seeded and small-seeded. Small-seeded varieties are better suited to cold temperatures and would do better outdoors than large-seeded varieties. Large-seeded varieties would probably do better in a pot on a southern-facing window sill. (Pictured above is a large-seeded variety.)
Salad burnet is also a perennial green. When I first tasted it, I described it as “unsweetened watermelon” – basically a cucumber flavor. It’s an airy, pretty little plant.
When grown in a pot, it’ll be happier with something a little deeper, that it can sink its roots into.
It sometimes produces cute, pink flowers as a little bonus.
Agretti is much used and much loved n Italy. I originally came across agretti while looking up Italian vegetables, and of course I had to try growing it. We’ve come to love agretti, and we’ve grown it every year since.
It’s texture is crunchy, and it has a tart, slightly salty flavor – which alludes to its ability to thrive in saltier soils where most other plants wouldn’t be able to grow.
Agretti will only germinate under cool conditions, and even then it’s notorious for its low-germination rate (only about 30%). We’ve found this definitely holds true. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow it – you’ll just have to sow a few more seeds than usual to get the number of plants you want.
Quick story about agretti: I grew agretti in 2013 in a public kitchen garden that I was in charge of. At the large Summer Celebration held that year, an Italian man came up to me and said, “Agretti. You grow agretti!”
He had immigrated from Italy 2 or 3 years earlier, and missed agretti. Of course, I let him cut a handful and take it home with him. 🙂
If you’ve spent any time in Europe, you’ve probably had an egg ‘n cress sandwich (or two…). The cress that’s typically used on these classic tea sandwiches is water cress, but land cress (otherwise known as American cress) is a great substitute. Harvest them when the leaves are small for sandwiches, or let them grow a little bit bigger for use in salads.
Land cress is a very hardy perennial, so if you’re going to try growing any of these greens outdoors during the winter, this is the one to try your luck with. Mulch it well to help protect the roots.
Arugula is becoming more well-known in America every year. There are several different types of arugula, each with a varying degree of spiciness and other tones of flavor.
If you grow arugula outdoors during the winter, pick one of the more cold-hardy varieties (usually the ‘wild’ arugulas, such as Sylvetta).
Arugula is worth growing just for the edible flowers, which can be used to garnish salads. They have a flavor similar to the leaves.