This is What Winter Gardening Looks Like -- Nov. 5 2012

Because there is so much interest in winter gardening when I give speeches and garden tours --  and so little first-hand experience out there -- I’m determined to keep a monthly update on this blog of the winter garden this year. So today I’m going to take you on a garden tour. All of these photos were taken in my backyard garden today, Nov. 5 2012.

Above is a picture of thyme in a glass cloche. I've been collecting glass cloches from thrift and antique stores -- this is a glass jar kept upside down. 

Two more glass cloches, each with lemon balm under them. If given some protection, lemon balm is perennial.

You can't hardly see it, but there is a spinach plant in this cloche. I found two of these glass cones at a thrift store for $1 each!

This is one of my homemade cold frames filled with the fastest growing winter lettuce -- it grows an astonishing four times faster than any other lettuce -- Grand Rapids. We had this lettuce for dinner last night. 

This is inside another homemade cold frame -- spinach and a rare Chinese kale.

This is some of the 109 square feet of winter wheat planted in my garden right now. This wheat will never need any protection, and it will be ready to harvest in the first week of June. This is my largest wheat planting in my garden to date -- all from our own seed. I started with about 20 grains of antique wheat and have now grown it out to this!

A glass cloche on the left with Swiss chard on the right. This chard has not had any protection yet because it has been unseasonably warm.

This is a view inside another one of my homemade cold frames. On the left half you see my bush beans. On the right you see some of my multiplier onions. Because the onions are so tall, I had to put a big frame over them -- but that meant lots of empty air space above the beans, and on a night when it hit 10 degrees outside, the top leaves of the beans froze. I should have put them in their own fitted frame. 

This is a view of multiplier onions and a whole bunch of self-planted Swiss chard. All of this has been outside without any protection so far. 

This is inside another cold frame, this one purchased from the internet for about $120. These are cabbages and lentils. 

A close-up of my lentils in flower -- in November! This is only possible in a cold frame. It's taken me five years to find a lentil seed that would grow in my very, very short growing season with alkaline soil. I will sell a very limited supply of these lentil seeds between now and Christmas. 

These are the cabbages we are eating now. These cabbages are 20 months old, and spent all of last winter under a cold frame. If you look closely you can see on the bottom left and bottom right that there are new baby cabbages too. 

What is this ugly photo, you say? This is one of my winter lettuce trials. This is a section of three lettuces planted a couple weeks ago and grown without any protection so far. The two stones in the center mark the three sections. You can see the lettuce in the center has failed to thrive. The lettuce on the right is doing okay, but the lettuce on the left is really thriving. We'll see how it does over the next two months. 

This is an overview of my perennial herbs -- savory, garlic chives, parsley, lemon balm, time, bergomot. 

This is a close-up of Marvel of Four Seasons, inside a homemade cold frame.

This is Green Oak Leaf lettuce, inside a cold frame.

This is Red Iceberg, which is a ballhead lettuce. This is a little baby, just planted about a month ago. It will begin to form a ballhead in late January.

These are a variety of winter pea that withstands hard frosts! These have been in a cold frame. I have another section of a different type of pea that is actually doing better than these, but I forgot to take a picture :(

These are the rutabaga. The deer started eating them, so I set a cheap wire cage over them. They will be ready to harvest for Thanksgiving, fingers crossed!

This is a purple mustard greens plant, and it has not had any protection yet this winter.

Inside a cold frame full of my Winter Green Jewel romaine lettuce, with some more purple mustards up front.

This is our former glass front door to the house, now being used to cover a raise bed of fall-planted carrots, which are thriving.

This is Caleb's Deep Winter lettuce, in a cold frame.

These are some of the rarest onions in the world, and certainly the rarest onions in this country -- I am the only one growing them. These are the best winter onions according to historic garden writers. I'm trying to save them from extinction. The seed for these were flown in from the Netherlands for me by the federal government. I planted the seeds in Feb. 2012 -- these are the same plants, being saved for seed. My friends have been saying we should sacrifice one so that we can see what this very rare onion tastes like, but a tasting will have to wait at least another year -- everyone of of them is needed for seed production right now. 

Some makeshift cloches covering baby leaks, with a garden decoration.

A close-up of baby leeks in a cloche.

More leeks thriving in a cloche.

These are a cloche of those very rare onions you saw a moment ago. These were planted from seed a few weeks ago. There is very little of the seed left, and no way to get more.

An overview of some of the cloches. In the front is a 2-foot-deep hot bed made of a mix of natural materials, topped with an old bale of grass hay while it heats up. I just made this hot bed a couple days ago, and when I finish it I will plant more peas. I really wish I'd planted a lot more peas -- we could eat them all.

This is a glass house covering four huge collard greens plants. 

This is a closeup of some mature Swiss chard which has not been covered with any protection yet this year.

One of my pride and joys -- a baby cantaloupe plant in November! This is one of the rare cantaloupes that used to grown historically over the winter. This is being kept alive by a three-foot-deep hot bed. Cross your fingers for me!

This is a broody hen. She is sitting on 10 eggs. Last year I had not one but two broods of chicks hatched out here in October -- a feat so rare that a picture of it ran in the local paper. I've never, ever heard of a hen hatching out chicks in November -- its a frightening comment on how unusually hot it is this winter here. Nevertheless, we've had no other chicks born here this year, so we really want this brood to be a success!

These are figs on my fig tree in my geothermal greenhouse.

This is a peach tree, which I grew this year from seed, and a Swiss chard plant that is almost three years old, in the geothermal greenhouse. 

The winter tomatoes are coming along beautifully in the geothermal greenhouse! Here is a closeup of a roma tomato.

The tomato plants in the geothermal greenhouse are a whooping 7 feet tall! They fill the greenhouse from top  to bottom -- and it is hard to get a picture!

Carrots and lettuces under cold frames. 

This is an overview of part of my garden -- you can see a bunch of cold frames in the front right, and composting beds topped with sand on the front left, with my scarecrow and bunches of cold frames in the background.

Thanks for touring my winter garden! My vegetable by vegetable guide to winter gardening -- the first we know of to ever be published in the U.S. -- hits bookstores in April 2013!


  1. You are amazing. I am so inspired by your garden.

  2. Garden Clearances are a form of service which can be a part or an entire garden. Thanks for keeping this website, I’ll be visiting it. Thanks admin

  3. Very excited about your new book. I found your 'forgotten skills' book very informative. I am wondering about your method of making low sugar jam in the oven, though. You mentioned it in your book, but there was no recipe! Can you share some of the specifics?

  4. I'd love to do a trade some fig cuttings with you if you are interested .I have about 30 varieties of fig trees I can take cuttings from and I also have a large collection of tomato seeds and other garden seeds I can share with you in return. my email is if you want to talk more, thanks and I look forward to hearing back from you.

  5. Thank you for these posts! I just read your book "Backyard Winter Gardening" and I am just amazed. I live in north Idaho and come from a family of farmers. We have always packed it in in the winter and sighed over seed catalogs. I got this book just now, too late to winter garden this year but I will do this next year. Please keep posting! I have so many questions.