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8 Reasons Winter Gardens Are The Best

8 Reasons Winter Gardens Are The Best

winter garden

The snow is coming, and for those of us that aren’t snow sport fanatics there tends to be a familiar pang of foreboding sadness with the shedding of bikinis and adoption of wool sweaters. But winter doesn’t have to mean dark days, sluggishness and weight gain. You can still feed your body, mind and spirit with fresh, tasty, nutrient dense foods from your garden despite the frost. Here are just some of the potential crops you can grow to make your winter season healthy and happy.

1. Kale
Kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods we can grow. Jam packed with Manganese, Vitamin A, C and K, kale is that magic ingredient you can toss in a smoothie, juice, stir-fry or soup to add instant health. In addition to all of kale’s nutritional awesomeness, it is also ridiculously easy to grow. Just about any novice gardener can grow kale by planting some and forgetting about it most of the time. Plant winter varieties late summer and have an abundance of greens all year round.

2. Collards
Not a whole lot of people know what collards are let alone what to do with them. Here’s some help. Collards are dark green, broad leafed members of the brassica family (kale, broccoli, cabbage etc) that don’t make a head. Their leaves can get big enough to be props for the next Jurassic Park movie and they taste like chlorophyll. Collard greens have been found to have cancer preventative properties, lower cholesterol and supply your blood with all that great deep green healthy goodness. Like kale, they can be steamed, massaged to make salad, added to soups, they can substitute tortillas for wraps and are the BEST for juicing. Also similar to kale, collards are simple to grow, are winter hardy and are an easy no brainer method to add green to your life when your winter world feels like it has become potatoes, chocolate bars and lentil soup. Plant in spring and late summer for winter harvests.

3. Bok Choy
Also called pak choi, this leafy green vegetable is an up and coming nutritional powerhouse. Fresh pak choi is an excellent source of water-soluble antioxidant, vitamin-C (ascorbic acid). 100 g provides 45 mg or 75 per cent of daily requirements of vitamin C. Recent studies have identified over 70 antioxidants in bok choy. Unlike some other members of the cabbage family, bok choy’s nutrient roster includes omega-3s and zinc. They are relatively easy to grow from seed and can add a great option to your winter cooking regime. Think miso soup with chantrelles, bok choy and seaweed. Yes, please. Plant some today! 

4. Spinach
We all know about this guy. Spinach is sweet, familiar and easy to prepare. Lucky for us, if you have a cold frame or hoop house you can grow spinach all year round for delicious winter salads and health abundant green smoothies. Plant tonnes! You’ll go through it quickly. Add at least a handful to your blueberry-banana smoothie for a green punch that won’t turn your delicious morning treat into health sludge like some greens we won’t mention(....kale). Plant in early fall.

5. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are pretty easy to grow and are super delicious. In the land of health consciousness, Brussels sprouts are better cooked as do a better job of binding together with bile acids in your digestive tract when they've been steamed. That bile is then easily eliminated from your body and your cholesterol is lowered. So maybe exclude Brussels sprouts from your raw diet roster. Also, if cholesterol isn’t a concern, Brussels sprouts taste amazing when you lather them in butter and salt and of course, cranberry sauce. Sometimes they can be a great treat. They just scream Thanksgiving and holiday dinners. Little cabbage buddies for your entertainment. Plant in July for an autumn and winter harvest. *TIP* They taste better after your first frost.

6. Swiss Chard
wiss chard is not only one of the most popular vegetables along the Mediterranean but it is one of the most nutritious vegetables around. It contains all those great vitamins A, C, E and K so feel free to go nuts. Chard however, is one of the few leafy greens that are better digested when steamed or cooked as they are high in oxalic acid which can interrupt your absorption of calcium. So maybe skip the juicer and go straight to the pan. In your garden, Swiss chard plants look like beautiful rainbow spears that can grow all year round with no cover. Chard is a great addition to the garden even if you just want to look at it and sigh while thinking about unicorns and care bears. Plant in spring and early fall.

7. Arugula and Mustard Greens
Arugula and mustards are fantastic sources of flavour. Have you ever found salad to be boring? Have you ever struggled your way though a generic leaf pile drenched in oil and vinegar at a restaurant? The sad truth about leafy greens is that they aren’t all created equal but we are often exposed to a limited number of virtually tasteless varieties thus blanketing the whole land of leaf in blah. Arugula and mustard greens are spicy and exciting! They add zest, life and so much flavour to an otherwise potentially blasé plate of good greens. In addition, they are winter hardy so you can plant in the fall and cover for overwintering spicy treats.

8. Radishes
Do I even need to say anything about these cute little nuggets? Ok, they’re spicy fresh, they add colour to an otherwise potentially monochromatic salad, and they’re quick to grow. Radishes take up little space in your garden and they have a rapid maturation rate. That means you can harvest fresh radishes as early as three weeks after seeding. Mental, right? In addition, radishes are a great source of vitamin C, they help the body eliminate harmful free radicals, and are full of detoxifying agents. Seed every two weeks for successive harvests in spring and fall. Cover your beds and you can seed all winter.

Tara Campbell is a writer, dancer, gardener and urban food growing advocate. After completing a BA in History and Environmental studies at The University of Victoria, she went on to study plant life at Pacific Horticulture College earning her landscaping technician certificate and master gardener diploma. 

Read more about Tara.

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