To Grow a Winter Garden

To Grow a Winter Garden
 Photos and Words by Brittany Kelly

The hydrangeas are sleeping into their second season, rust-hued and dry, their energy retreating back into themselves for the sweet sake of blooming dreams alone. The cicadas have stilled and Fall’s soft red clay turns hard. It’s Winter in Alabama. The sun wakes lazy, and on a warm day, turkeys peek through the wood line in my backyard to catch her slow rise from foggy quilts. A warm mug of espresso, a dust of cinnamon and nutmeg. Fire for my belly and an upper to get my blood pulsing. To the garden.

To grow a Winter garden in Alabama is to grow glory and grit—I swear it. Leafy greens lend themselves to the cold in resilience, and it calls likewise for a remembered resilience deep within me. Row covers and mulch rows strip my mind towards uniformed clarity in the chill. A visual imprint of how simple our needs really are, and how we can’t overlook the help both given to and received from, a few good friends.

To grow a winter garden in Alabama is an understanding that in the absence of powder-sloped playgrounds, the occasional snow flurry arrives instead to dust, insulate, and hydrate the gift of an extended growing year. A gift to be made personal for winter wellness.

Parsnips, carrots, beets, thick leafed greens, onions and garlic. Seeds and seedlings alike that have been tucked in the earth when jack-o-lanterns still lit up the night and continued with succession during gingerbread days. Hearty bites to be thrown into a simmering pot with Summer’s dried herbs and a simple, clean, broth. Truth be told, to grow a Winter Garden in Alabama is even more poetic in nature and act than it lends itself to in the most well written words or dreamiest day dreams.

Some of my favorite tips to tuck in tight and secure a harvest for the early nights and frosty dawns:

  1. Row covers are your friend! Select row covers that are wide enough to give the plant breathing room, but spaced low enough to make sure the warmth isn’t lost.
  2. Keep buggy pests at bay with cinnamon and a food grade diatomaceous earth.
  3. If possible start preparing early on in the Fall. Cover soil with compost, nourishing Summer’s stolen minerals, and remove rocks for deep root vegetables that require space to stretch down deep.
  4. Keep in mind first and last freeze dates as bookends to both sowing and harvesting. The Old Farmer’s Almanac (online and in print) is a great resource that will help you hone down moon cycles, growing zones, and crop specific tricks.
  5. Invest in a good pair of rubber boots and thick wool socks. They will be your most loved early morning allies.
  6. Visit her every day—she grows best with cheerful company.