Do you live in a place where it gets frosty and snowy in the winter? Are you still eating fruits and veggies during these months?
If so, chances are your food is either being shipped in from very far away or else grown in an energy-sucking greenhouse.
Of course, we’ve lived this way for a long time and no one wants to go without healthy food in the off-season, but those who enjoy gardening and relish the idea of being self-sufficient and minimizing their impact on the Earth, there’s a way you can have it all.
An Austrian master gardener and head of the Research Institute of Horticulture named Wolfgang Palme is trying to help people learn to garden all year round – even in winter!
And he discovered his technique entirely by accident.
In an interview with Reasons to Be Cheerful, Palme said he discovered “winter farming” after a batch of Asian lettuce in his garden unexpectedly survived an early frost.
Now, he’s laid out a series of techniques that could allow you to grow salad greens, carrots, peas, and more even in the cold and snow too.
Palme says that even with local and organic food movements produce an enormous number of CO2 emissions because of the energy required to keep things warm in the cold weather.
“In a cold winter night, a heated greenhouse of 1.5 acres causes as much CO2 equivalent as a detached house in a whole year,” he said. “Mankind can no longer afford this.”
But creating hearty crops and planting carefully at the right time could help cut down on emissions greatly while still allowing us to eat our greens (and yellows and purples!) when it’s cold and grey.
One of the things he discovered as he investigated the phenomenon of crops surviving cold snaps was that a lot of the advice about frost-hardiness (at least for Central European crops) was incorrect.
Depending on when you sow your seeds, even delicate lettuces can grow through the snow.
He’s laid out advice for 70 crops so far, from endive to onions.
Here’s an example:
According to a recent interview with Reasons to Be Cheerful, horticulturist Palme says he accidentally discovered his “winter farming” technique after a batch of his Asian lettuce was left undamaged by an early frost in the vegetable fields behind his house in Lower Austria.
Now he’s growing crop in winter with one-sixth to one-tenth of the carbon footprint that heated farming systems produce – and he’s helping home gardeners and farmers alike.
Would you like radishes in November? Well, if you play your cards right and sow them in early- to mid-September, your wish might come true.
Brussels sprouts can be planted in June and harvested towards the end of the year as well – and they can stand up to some serious cold!
The key is to plant later in the season and ignore the supposedly hard-and-fast rules about when food should grow.
He’s provided a handy chart (the key is at the bottom) for when you can plant certain greens, herbs, tubers, etc. and what you can truly expect of their frost-hardiness here.
At the moment, there are five experimental sites (in Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, and Switzerland) that are testing out diversified crop rotation methods that would allow for year-round food production.
While the research is still ongoing, there’s no reason that this information can’t be useful to gardeners around the world who are willing to plant some crops a bit later to truly test their cold-hardiness.
It’s exciting to think that gardening might be possible year-round with some experimentation!
Who plans to give it a try?
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