Winter vegetables provide valuable vitamins and minerals during the cold season. Here you can read which frost-hardy vegetables can also be harvested at freezing temperatures.
Thanks to winter vegetables, you don’t have to do without fresh vegetables from your own garden after the harvest season in late summer and fall. Even in the cold season, there are regional vegetables that can be harvested, processed and stored at freezing temperatures. Winter vegetables are not only particularly frost-hardy, with some species the first frost even brings out the good taste, as it converts the starch of the plants into sugar. However, frost is not essential, even with prolonged cold gradually slows down the metabolism of plants, so that sugars and other aromatic substances are no longer converted, but accumulate in leaves, beets and tubers.
Growing your own winter vegetables often saves you from going to the supermarket, where exotic fruits and also vegetables are offered, which have been transported a long way. In addition, with regional winter vegetables you can prepare delicious seasonal dishes and do without additional vitamin supplements, because they already provide us with minerals and vitamins optimally. Typical winter vegetables are cabbages as well as root vegetables and frost-resistant salads.
Popular winter vegetables
Beet is from the goosefoot family and is a popular winter vegetable. Depending on the variety, beet has round or cylindrical, red, yellow or white root tubers with oval, slightly wavy leaves with red veins. The intensely colored beet contains particularly high levels of minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, as well as vitamins. An important ingredient is folic acid, which is important for cell division. The pigment betanin contained in beet helps prevent cardiovascular disease.
Beet thrives in humus-rich clay soils and should not be planted outdoors before May. It must be regularly hoed. Beets are ready for harvest 12 to 15 weeks after sowing before the first frost, when they reach about 4 centimeters (1.6 in) in diameter. Storage varieties can be stored in boxes with moist sand at a temperature of 1 to 3 °C / 34 to 37 °F. Before further use, for example, as a salad or soup, you should cook the beets with peel, as it is then easier to peel. Beet can be used raw in salads, be a base for juices and smoothies, and can also be eaten steamed with onions and topped with cottage cheese.
Lamb’s lettuce is a classic winter vegetable. It is also called corn salad or mache and is actually a native wild herb. Typical of lamb’s lettuce are its dark green, flat little leaves that grow in rosettes. They contain many essential oils and taste delicately nutty. It is spread sowed from mid-August for harvesting in the fall, for wintering even sowing lamb’s lettuce in October is still possible. Lamb’s lettuce is hardy and thrives easily in a sunny or semi-shady spot.This allows you to harvest fresh salad vegetables constantly throughout the fall and winter.
When pruning, place the knife right at the root neck. If you cut too high, the rosettes will fall apart. Hardy varieties have smaller leaves and stockier growth. If the nights are too cool, cover the lamb’s lettuce with brushwood or a fleece. The leaves can be used to prepare a winter salad with fried bacon and croutons.
Bittercress, also called herb barbara or winter rocket, tastes spicy, with the dark green leaves containing a lot of vitamin C. The winter vegetable is considered blood purifying, draining and appetizing. Bittercress is an easy-to-cultivate biennial plant. It should be sown from June to mid-September in nutrient-rich and moist soil. Bittercress forms a rosette of paired pinnate leaves that are frost hardy. You should water the cress well and keep it free of weeds. Starting in late fall, about eight to twelve weeks after sowing, the cress can be harvested. The frost-hardy garden herb tastes best freshly chopped in a salad or on bread.
Kale, which is rich in vitamins, is considered the quintessential winter vegetable. The healthy vegetable has also become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in vegetable boxes and as an ingredient in smoothies. The collard greens thrive well at sub-zero temperatures. What’s more, the longer the kale is exposed to winter temperatures, the sweeter and milder even the flavor becomes. Kale grows palmately, its bluish to purple leaves are heavily curled and sit loosely on a stalk that can grow up to a foot tall.
The highly nutritious plant thrives in humus-rich soil and can be planted out in July with a spacing of 40 x 60 cm (16 x 24 in). The winter vegetable is extremely rich in vitamins and contributes to healthy intestinal function with its fiber. In terms of protein content, the winter vegetable is far superior to all other types of cabbage. Furthermore, kale contains iron, which is important for blood formation, and other minerals such as potassium and calcium. The leaves are harvested individually, shredded and are used primarily in meat dishes. Kale can be served with Mettwurst sausage or smoked pork chop. In addition, there are numerous vegetarian dishes with the winter vegetable. When preparing kale, make sure not to boil it, but to cook it slowly, otherwise its valuable vitamins and minerals will be lost.
Winter purslane (Montia perfoliata), a purslane plant with spinach-like leaves, is a hardy winter vegetable that yields well both outdoors and in the greenhouse throughout the winter. It can be sown starting in September, like lamb’s lettuce, in spreads or rows spaced 15 to 20 centimeters (6 to 8 in) apart. In the greenhouse, it is worth growing in pots. Within six to seven weeks, the herb is ready for harvest. The vitamin C-rich leaves and stems can be cut to a height of about 10 cm (4 in). They serve as a refinement of winter salads or taste great chopped on buttered bread. Winter purslane is also called Indian lettuce or miner’s lettuce.
A member of the composite family, chicory is descended from the chicory plant and initially forms a bud-like, elongated shoot in its second year, from which the inflorescence later emerges. Chicory can be obtained from this new shoot. Sow seeds thinly in rows in early June and thin the plantlets to a spacing of about 10 cm (4 in) after germination. In late autumn, the roots are carefully dug up and left on the bed for about three more days. Then grow the chicory roots in a dark and substrate-filled container. Once the white-green leaf buds are about 15 cm (6 in) long, you can harvest them. Chicory is popularly prepared as a salad, with which oranges go well. In addition to healthy bitter substances, the winter vegetable contains valuable minerals and vitamins.
The parsnip, which is often confused with the parsley root, comes from the umbelliferae family and can still be found in its wild form along roadsides. In the past, it was very often cultivated, but then displaced by potatoes and carrots. The parsnip looks carrot-like and is a biennial. The winter vegetable grows a large taproot, yellow on the outside as well as white on the inside, from which celery-like leaves grow, about 70 cm (28 in) high. Starting in March, you can sow the seeds outdoors in soil that is as deeply loosened as possible and rich in nutrients.
Parsnips grow mainly in September and are then usually ready for harvest starting in October. After the first frost, the vitamin B-rich roots mellow and taste even better. If you cover the bed with a 10- to 15-centimeter-thick (4 to 6 in) mulch layer of leaves and chopped straw, you can harvest continuously, even in subzero temperatures. While the parsnip leaves can be used as a salad addition like parsley, the flavorful, peeled roots go well with casseroles, stews or other warm vegetable dishes. Also popular are parsnip purees. In a box of damp sand in a cool, dark cellar, parsnips will keep through the winter.
Jerusalem artichoke is also called sunchoke or topinambour and originates from North America. The winter vegetable is a perennial sunflower species that grows up to three meters (10 ft) high. Light brown to purple, irregularly shaped tubers form at the roots, the edible vegetable. The tubers contain protein and fructose as well as minerals and vitamins. The tubers can be planted outdoors from mid-April. As soon as the above-ground parts have died off, harvesting begins. As a rule, Jerusalem artichoke tubers are taken out of the bed in portions from October to March. To do this, dig up the tubers with a digging fork. Because of the thin skin, they can be stored for only a few days. Newer varieties with thick, evenly shaped rhizomes are easier to peel and taste good grated raw or prepared like potatoes.
Black salsify is also a popular winter vegetable. They grow wild in southern Europe. Of the winter vegetable, the 40-centimeter-long black-beef taproots (16 in) are consumed, which contain a whitish-yellow milky juice and are hardy. The fine vegetable is high in fiber and easily digestible. To grow salsify in the garden, sow salsify seeds thinly in two-cm-deep (0.8 in) furrows in the field starting in April.
Black salsify is harvested from the beginning of November, as soon as the foliage turns yellow or retracts. To prevent the long stalks from being injured or breaking off in the process, dig a spade-deep trench close to the row of plants and pull the roots out of the ground in the direction of the trench. The stalks have a fine nutty taste and can be peeled like asparagus. Cooking in salt water is a good way to do this, so you can peel off the skin more easily. Cut into small pieces or in the piece, black salsify goes well as a side dish with meat dishes or in soups, but you can also puree the whole roots into a cream soup. Lemon juice can be used to remove brown stains on the hands caused by escaping milky juice.
Turnips served as the main food staple after World War I, when the potato crop failed. The winter vegetable then fell into oblivion, but is now being grown more frequently again. Turnips are also called rutabaga or swede. Depending on the variety, their flesh is white or yellow in color. The more yellowish the flesh of the winter vegetable, the more valuable carotenoids it has. Likewise, it has a high content of vitamin B and is rich in carbohydrates. Since turnip can tolerate temperatures as low as -10 °C / 14 °F, it is an appreciative winter vegetable that can be made into soups, among other things.
Celeriac is at its best in the fall. It is considered robust and cold-resistant. An old gardener’s rule is to keep the soil weed-free for thick, smooth tubers, but only hoe superficially, otherwise celeriac will form many coarse roots.
Rosette pak choi
Rosette pak choi (Japanese tatsoi or tah tsai) is a rarity that is still used far too rarely and originated in China. September seeds are ready for harvest before Christmas, and Asian cabbage planted in an unheated cold frame or greenhouse in early to mid-October ensures a supply from January until flowers appear in March. The whole rosettes of the winter vegetable are cut like lettuce. For multiple harvests, pick individual leaves. Like lamb’s lettuce, winter spinach and other leafy vegetables, pak choi should not be touched when frozen.
Endive is extremely sensitive to moisture and quickly begins to rot in rainy weather. As a precaution, you should cover the rows with a double layer of fleece or, even better, build over them with a foil tunnel. The formerly popular cut endive is less susceptible to rot and is also more frost-resistant than head-forming endive. If you appreciate the healthy bitter substances of this winter vegetable, use the leaves raw in salads. Steaming them briefly makes them much milder.
Sugarloaf belongs to the chicory family; unlike endive, the cylindrical heads can tolerate frost down to -8 °C / 17 °F. As temperatures drop, the pale yellow heart leaves develop a subtle, slightly nutty sweetness and the outer leaves also taste less bitter. Chicory lettuces tolerate some sub-zero temperatures, but even sugarloaf, which is considered quite frost-resistant, loses its crunchy bite when the cylindrical heads freeze through and thaw again several times.
Cardi (Cynara cardunculus) should be protected from winter dampness with a thick layer of straw. Cardi is closely related to artichokes, but instead of the flower buds, people eat the fleshy stems, bleached and peeled before preparation.
How to store winter vegetables
Carrots and beets will stay juicy for many weeks if they are layered in moist sand and stored in a zero to five °C / 32 to 41 °F cool room. Before storing the vegetables, cut off the foliage just above the tubers and beets. Wrapping up warm is the solution when storage space is tight for more delicate root vegetables like celery. Under a thick mulch layer of straw, beet and root parsley can also mature in peace, but below -4 °C / 25 °F you have to reckon with frost damage. Parsnips and carrots survive milder winters with -8 °C / 46 °F without problems. Nevertheless, it is advisable to build up a small stock of them as well. If the upper layers of the soil freeze through, it is almost impossible to get the delicate roots out of the ground.