Most gardeners think you can’t grow anything in winter. It’s too cold and dark and everything dies. But, you can harvest and grow a lot in winter! Many lettuce varieties are winter hardy and grow just fine in the cold. Even without a greenhouse or polytunnel, you can successfully grow lettuce and herbs in winter!
Growing in winter without a greenhouse
In the first winter, we had our new plot of land, there was no greenhouse. Yet we were able to grow a lot of lettuce during winter! So you definitely don’t need a greenhouse to grow things in winter! The only protection from strong wind and cold we gave the lettuce plants was a layer of fleece. With some PVC pipes, you can make arches so that there is a space between the lettuce plants and the fleece. This layer of air provides insulation. We used stones to lay down the fleece.
What can you sow in the fall to harvest in the winter?
As mentioned earlier, you can harvest many types of lettuce in winter. In addition to lettuce varieties, you can also grow and harvest many herbs. To get you started, you can find inspiration in this list of what you can grow and harvest in the colder months of the year:
If you do have a greenhouse or polytunnel I would definitely fill it with plants. The extra protection from wind and rain, especially in rainy places like the Netherlands, benefits the quality of the leaves.
When do you plant out winter lettuce?
You sow the lettuce and herbs in September because you still have warm days. This makes the seeds germinate more easily. By the time it is October, you already have beautiful seedlings. You can plant these out in October, for example in your greenhouse or polytunnel where you grew tomatoes in summer. If you are a little late with sowing, start your seeds on the windowsill and before transplanting, let them get used to the cold before you transplant them into the open ground. This method is often called “hardening off”.
If you grow without a greenhouse or polytunnel make sure you have some fleece ready at hand when it gets cold. With good weather in October, fleece is not necessary yet but it can be useful against birds. They sometimes pull your small seedlings out of the ground.
Harvest the first winter lettuce in November
With good weather, you can harvest the first lettuce as early as November. You do not harvest the whole plant, but only the outer leaves. Because you only pick the outer leaves, the plant can continue to grow slowly. This allows you to harvest from your plants throughout the winter.
Eating winter lettuce and herbs into spring
You will find that your winter lettuce, herbs, and spinach continue to grow throughout the winter. Especially on sunny days, you can watch the plants grow! By the time the days get longer and the temperature goes up, the plants want to start flowering. Arugula in particular starts to produce flowers around March and April. If your plants start to flower, it’s time to take them out. You can cut the plants down to the ground and cover them with a layer of compost. By the time the chance of frost has passed you can use the beds for tomatoes, for example. We don’t take out the roots because they feed soil life and prevent soil disturbance.