There are many home gardeners that fall into a major slump over the winter months. While it may be a simple case of the winter blues, it is usually more along the lines of not working the green thumb out enough during these cold Illinois winters.
As gardeners, the joy of growing, picking, and devouring fresh lettuces, onions, and cucumbers is a pure delight. However, as the winter months close in, it ends that growing season. Many are forced to shop for waxy produce at the local grocery store. This usually leaves a lot to be desired on the nightly dinner table.
However, there has been a move to garden during the winter months more and more. While it may seem like an impossible task facing an average winter temperature of 29 degrees Fahrenheit and at least 7 inches of snow, Illinois gardeners have pressed on and found some incredible ways to garden in the dead of winter.
There is virtually no way to get any plant to bud in the stark grey days of January and February without some help. Most will enlist the assistance of hoop tunnels, cold frames, and greenhouses to help their produce grow.
Hoop tunnels are perhaps the easiest to set up in a backyard to promote winter gardening. These are perfect for those who love do-it-yourself projects or they can be purchased directly from a retailer. When properly set, a hoop tunnel will allow your plants to not only grow but thrive. Even as the snow accumulates, the hoop tunnels will protect your plants.
If you are looking for something a little sturdier and perhaps permanent, a cold frame would be recommended. Cold frames are generally made from materials that are found around the home or a flea market. All that is required is some wood or bricks and a window to fit over the top. Of course, you will need various tools and hardware to complete the project. In simplest terms, a cold frame is the poor man's greenhouse. It is basically a box with a window placed on the top for a miniature unheated greenhouse.
For serious gardeners, the only solution is a greenhouse for the ultimate in winter gardening. A working greenhouse allows the home gardener to grow produce all year long. A greenhouse does not have to be an expensive project. There are many do-it-yourself kits that will allow for a versatile greenhouse. There are also higher priced models that come mostly assembled.
A greenhouse works by trapping solar radiation inside and creating the perfect environment for your winter gardening needs. However, what most people do not realize is that there are two types of greenhouses. If you happen to choose the wrong one, your winter gardening efforts may not go as planned. There is the cold house and the cool house. While they sound similar, they have different reactions to cold temperatures. A cold house will provide warm temperatures for your plants, but once it gets so cold, the temperature inside can drop below freezing, while the cool house will always keep a temperature above 40 degrees. Even though the cool house offers more protection, either would be a good investment for winter gardening.
Depending on where you are in Illinois you are looking at one of several Hardiness Zones. The northernmost part of the state begins with a five and goes all the ways down to a seven in the south. Some plants are going to do better than others in these zones and it is best to research for plants designed for your Hardiness Zone. However, there are some vegetables that grow very well during the cold winter months across the state of Illinois. These include beets, broccoli, green onions, radishes and greens.
As you can see, it is quite possible to still enjoy the art of gardening even when the temperature dips down. Consider one of the three options of gardening outside and choose the right vegetables for a bountiful winter of fresh vegetables and herbs.
Jonathan Leger is a member of the Garden Writer's Association and a gardening enthusiast. He runs a site dedicated to the history, education and care of knockout roses at KnockoutRoses.net.