Cheating Tips for Gardening in Calgary

 Extending the growing season in Calgary can be done in a few different ways: overwintering, winter growing, winter harvesting.  Some of these techniques may require the use of mulches, row covers, portable greenhouses, plant shelters, cold frames, hot beds so they are topics for another day. Overwintering refers to planting of seeds or bulbs in late Fall for the purpose of harvesting next spring or summer.  Winter vegetable growing allows you to extend or “cheat” our short growing season by providing crops up to 3-4 weeks earlier then spring planting depending on the crop selected.  
Here are our Top 8 Vegetables to grow outdoors over winter:
These winter vegetable seeds can be sown directly outdoors and will cope well with cold winter weather.  The addition of 5 centimeters of mulch like dry leaves will help reduce the drying effects of frost.1. Onions and ShallotsFall planting of shallots and onion sets are easy to grow and will virtually look after themselves over winter. Onions have a long growing season and won’t be ready for harvesting until next summer, so you will need to plan carefully as they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring. Garlic-Provence-Wight-300x3002. Garlic

Growing garlic couldn’t be easier and there are lots of varieties to choose from for Fall planting. Like onions, they have a long growing season and won’t be ready to harvest until next summer, but it is well worth the wait! 

3. Spring Onions

Winter hardy varieties of spring onion make a tasty accompaniment to winter salads. They are a fairly quick growing crop and early Fall sowings should be ready to harvest by early spring. 

spinach4. SpinachPerpetual spinach makes an excellent ‘cut and come again’ crop that will produce huge yields of tasty leaves. Early Fall sowings will keep you supplied with tender young leaves throughout winter and with regular harvesting it will continue to crop well into summer! 5. AsparagusIf you have plenty of space then why not plant a permanent asparagus bed this Fall. Although asparagus beds take several years to establish, each asparagus crown can produce up to 25 spears per year and will continue cropping for 25 years. You will need to be patient with this crop as it will be 2 years before you can harvest them properly – but the promise of tender, home grown asparagus spears is well worth the wait.

carrot6. Carrots and Parsnips

For an early crop of carrots, Fall planting will give your harvest a 3 to 4 week head start.  While you may want to leave your carrots in the ground to harvest after the frost to allow the plants to convert some of their starch stores into sugar, your crop will be fully grown.  Parsnips in particular benefit from this longer growing period as do carrots with the unpredictable seasons in our region, we all remember Snow-tember 2014. Root vegetables undertake this starch conversion to keep the water in their cells from freezing, the cells inside a carrot might have icy-cold water, but that water won’t turn into ice. 

7. Bok Choi and Pak Choi

This traditionally oriental vegetable (bok choi or pak choi) can be harvested young throughout the winter as individual salad leaves, or let the heads mature and add the succulent stems to dishes like stir fries. Bok and Pak Choi are quick to mature and packed full of nutrients. Although they are often grown as a summer crop, they can still be sown in late summer for transplanting under cover in the Fall.

kale8. Kale
Kale is also another great candidate for winter harvesting if grown under row coverings. In fact, hard frost converts starches to sugar in the plant making kale a tad sweeter to enjoy.  If you find kale, swiss chard, turnip, brussel sprouts, parsnips to be bitter tasting, try letting the plants get a touch of frost or two and the taste difference becomes quite noticeable.
So, don’t let your vegetable garden sit empty over the winter.  You’ll be impressed come next spring.