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Overwintering crops

By Lynn Byczynski

Spring weather can be highly variable, too rainy or hot or cold, and you may not be able to start crops when you would like. Overwintering is a strategy that provides a bit of insurance. With certain crops, you can seed in fall under Quick Hoops™ tunnels or in a hoophouse. The plants will either germinate in fall and go dormant, or the seeds will sit dormant over the winter. But, when conditions are right, they will come to life and grow rapidly. Overwintered veggies can be several weeks to months ahead of spring-sown crops.

Spinach is one of the best-understood crops for overwintering. It germinates well in cool soil, 45-75°F/7-24°C, so it can be planted several times in autumn. Depending on the weather, some plantings may reach a harvestable size in fall and then go dormant until spring. Other plantings may not germinate in fall but wait until late winter to start growing. Spinach is hardy down to 20°F/-6.7°C, which means it can be grown in the field in the South or in a hoophouse under an inner layer of row cover in many other places. The short days of winter may cause the spinach plants to stop growing, but if the plants are mature before short days arrive, it’s possible to harvest spinach all winter. Cold makes spinach incredibly sweet and succulent. The best varieties for winter production are  ‘Tyee’, ‘Red Cardinal’, and ‘Python’.

Many other cold-tolerant crops are good candidates for fall planting and overwintering. They include arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, and scallions. Always look for the most cold-hardy varieties of each crop. Direct seed in fall and watch them to determine whether they germinate then or in late winter. If they germinate and grow quickly, they may be killed by winter cold; in that case, seed later next year.

Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.

Articles by

the author:
Lynn Byczynski was growing organic vegetables and cut flowers for market when she decided to create a magazine that would help market gardeners nationwide share experiences and information. Her first issue of Growing for Market appeared in January 1992 and it has been published continuously since then. GFM is renowned in the market gardening world for realistic articles that give growers practical, how-to information about growing and selling produce and flowers. Lynn is now partnering with Johnny's to provide similarly useful information for the website and other publications.

Lynn, her husband Dan Nagengast, and their two children have grown vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through a CSA, at farmers markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas.

Lynn is also the author of several books about market farming:
The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers; The Hoophouse Handbook; Market Farming Success

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