Growing cool season vegetables in Indiana over the winter months isn't rocket science. It doesn't take a lot of money and best of all, the vegetables that you pick are fresh, tender and cost a lot less to produce than what it would cost if you bought them at your local grocery store.
Making a cold frame to grow your vegetables in isn't hard either. In fact, all you need is a sturdy frame of some kind and a large sheet of 6mil. plastic. In the early stages of winter gardening, we made our cold frames out of scrap wood and old metal church windows.
The first cold frame we built you could walk into. I really liked that one. Although it was small and there was not a lot of standing room inside it, I could manage to keep my balance without stepping on the plants and it was easier to remove the row cover from a standing position. Walking through the piles of snow to get to it, then brushing the snow away from the edge of the door so I could open it was not a lot of fun, I admit. It was cold out there and I don't like cold weather. Once I was inside the cold frame however, I had to remove my gloves and coat. It was that warm in there.
The following year, we decided to build an A-frame cold frame. This allowed it to be larger, but it was also closer to the ground. This meant crawling into it instead of walking in. I had a nice pathway down the center though and we lined it with stepping stones so I could sit down without getting dirty or muddy. The design worked ok for growing plants, but I did not go out as often to harvest the crops because it was harder to get in and out of.
I did not use raised beds in either one of these cold frames. I sowed my seed directly in the ground after I amended the soil with compost. I watered on a regular basis in August and September when I sowed the seed, but after that I only watered once a month at the most.
The plants absorbed moisture from the ground plus moisture was trapped inside the cold frame. During the day it hung on the plastic, dripping down on top of the plants. At night the moisture froze on the plastic and the row cover. This is why it is important to suspend the row cover above the plants. You certainly don't want your plants foliage to get excess moisture during the winter and then freeze.
There are a few tips and tricks you should know about growing winter vegetables in Indiana.
1. Plant seed in late August or early September. An alternative is to transplant small plants into your cold frame. I have transplanted cool season crops that were hardened off as late as mid-November.
2. The goal is to get the plants to a mature size before winter. Once it gets too cold, the plants go into a state of dormancy. They remain green and you can pick them, but they don't grow.
3. Never open the door of the cold frame until until afternoon. This gives the plants plenty of time to heat up and thaw. Yes, they will freeze but because they are living, once they get warm enough that ice melts away and its like nothing ever happened to the plants.
4. Row cover is not an absolute necessity but it sure helps. If you can't find row cover, look online or use old 2-liter bottles or milk jugs with small holes in the tops to allow for air and water exchange.
5. Select cool weather crops so you don't need to heat your cold frame. Some good choices are: lettuce, spinach, radish, turnips, carrots, onions and potatoes. You can grow peas and cabbage as well but they tend to die back when it gets really cold.
6. Some crops can tolerate a light frost and be ok. These crops often taste sweeter once frost kisses them, so allow that to happen, then cover them with a cold frame. They are: Swiss chard, kale and Brussels sprouts.
More from home