My Winter Garden, Jan. 3 2013

Happy winter, everyone :)

Two nights ago we had our lowest nighttime temperature so far this winter, hitting minus-four degrees below zero! Yet I'm happy to report that we still have loads of fresh winter vegetables, both in the backyard garden in cold frames (under a foot of snow!) and in the geothermal greenhouse, which is heated only by the heat of the earth, without any artificial heat or electricity. I recorded several videos today of me in the backyard garden opening cold frames for you to see inside, but this darn blog won't accept the videos for some reason. I'll try again in another post. In the meantime, here's a January tour of my winter garden, both in the greenhouse and outside in the cold frames. My new book is called "Backyard Winter Gardening: Vegetables Fresh and Simple, in Any Climate, Without Artificial Heat or Electricity, the Way Its Been Done for 2,000 Years." This book is the first vegetable-by-vegetable guide to winter gardening to be published in the U.S. to my knowledge. And it is now available for pre-order through Amazon :)

Above is a cluster of tomatoes in my geothermal greenhouse. I'm testing different varieties of tomatoes this year, and though they are getting larger faster, they are not ripening as fast as some of the varieties I used last year. Within the next week I will plant seeds from more than 20 different tomato varieties to test for winter germination. You will notice in the photo that the leaves of this tomato plant have suffered damage. This is because two nights ago our low was minus-four degrees, and last night it was zero. The geothermal greenhouse has no artificial heat, and the bitter cold damaged some leaves. But the plants are alive and will grow new leaves. The tomatoes are unharmed, though the cold does wrinkle some of them.

I have planted about 120 varieties of seed in my greenhouse to test for winter germination. I'm testing everything from peas to beans to squash to exotics, onions, carrots -- everything. I've learned the hard way that you cannot guess with varieties might be winter tolerate. Seeds from some countries that have never had a frost show excellent winter sturdiness, and seeds with names that would hint they would do well in winter don't even sprout. So I've made it my mission in life to test every known open-pollinated variety for winter germination. I've spent several thousand dollars just for seed in the past couple of years. Shhhh - don't tell my wife.

Above is a picture of one of my great frustrations this winter -- I believe I have a vole in the greenhouse. It's dug at least 20 feet of tunnels, which I have collapsed and flooded over and over, trying to hint to this creature that it is not welcome. But its very cold outside and I guess this vole thinks my wrath is better than Mother Nature's. The vole has been eating tomatoes like nobody's business, so I finally went and bought these stupid traps, hoping to catch it. But try as I might, I only snap my own fingers. I can't get these dumb things to stay set. Erg. I'm going go buy some glue traps next. The vole has also been eating my pea plants down to the root. So far the damage has mostly been tomatoes, and I have lots of tomatoes, but still...

Above is a picture of one of my backyard cold frames. We have a foot of snow outside right now, and these cold frames were literally frozen to the ground and have not been opened in two weeks. In this frame I planted three kinds of lettuce that I've never winter tested before. The variety in the middle failed, but the lettuce on each side is doing well -- not the best winter lettuce in the garden so far, but not bad.

This, above, is a shot of part of my geothermal greenhouse. In the foreground is a pineapple plant, in the background is peas and a bunch of containers where I'm testing seed varieties for winter germination.

This, above, is a picture of baby cabbages and mature lentils in a cold frame in the backyard garden, surrounded by deep snow. 

This is the fig tree in my greenhouse. It as only now begun to lose its leaves.

For five or six days last week, the temperature in my greenhouse was 34 degrees, and I had just planted more than 50 varieties of seeds -- and despite the cold and lack of sunlight (it was very stormy) I've had several plants begin to grow. An excellent test! When my tests are complete, I'll reveal the winners, probably in a book or maybe in a limited-time blogpost. Stay tuned :)

Above is the winner of 18 different kinds of lettuces I'm testing for winter germination. 

I'm especially hopeful about this picture, which is a cucumber seed putting out a root. Cucumbers have been grown in cold frames overwinter for more than 2,000 years, yet I have not been able to find a variety that will germinate in winter. This is the first cucumber I've tried which has developed a root. But I've learned from hard experience that just because a seed develops a root in winter does not mean it will grow leaves. So I'm watching. We'll see what happens. 

Another germination winner!

I'm testing more than a dozen kinds of peas for winter germination. You can see in this picture that two different kinds of peas are popping out of the ground -- so far, so good!

An over-view of a part of the greenhouse, with peas and containers of seeds planted for germination testing. 


  1. What a terrific blog this is. I'd have to have a personality transplant to live this way. I can barely negotiate my way around a grocery store. Love watching you do your thing.

  2. Looking forward to the new book. I appreciate the information on greenhouses, I'm saving my pennies to put one in.

  3. I have had some success getting rid of gophers by closing all the holes I could find, then hooking a vacuum cleaner hose from the muffler of my car to one of the holes and letting the car idle for a half hour or so. Perhaps your vole can be gotten rid of in like manner.

  4. Where can I learn more about geothermal greenhouses? I did a google search and I'm not coming up with much. If there is a book or site you could recommend at least until your book comes out. I so excited for your winter gardening book!

  5. I dont understand the geothermal concept at all either. Would love to know.. i have a green house from harbor freight ready to put up when the snow is really green at pun inyended.

  6. I am interested in how to build a geothermal greenhouse. I see that I am not the only one. Please point us in the right direction! Thanks for all the great info!