With cold weather arriving, the temptation is to harvest all the veggies in the garden before a freeze kills them. That’s a great idea if you have room to store them or ways to preserve them in the kitchen, but some crops can stay in the garden all winter, even in cold climates, with a little protection. If you have a home or school garden, overwintering root crops in the ground is a great way to teach kids about what vegetables need in winter and how you can work with Mother Nature to preserve the harvest.
Root crops are relatively easy to overwinter in the garden. There are advantages beyond just reducing the space needed to store root crops in a refrigerator or cellar. Root crops develop a sweeter flavor when stored in the ground outdoors. Ask your kids why that happens, and explain that the root crops sweeten because carbohydrates are converted to sugar in the colder weather.
In the garden, root crops will be fine all winter as long as the ground doesn’t freeze. In mild-climates areas, this usually isn’t a problem. But in cold areas, the ground will need some protection from the cold weather. Ask your kids what they think will happen if the root crops freeze in the soil. Tell them that the freezing will destroy cell walls, so when the weather warms, the root crops will turn to mush. Ask them what they can use to insulate the roots. Organic materials, such as straw, hay, or chopped leaves work best because they provide protection, yet don’t become matted down during wet weather, which would create an environment where the roots might rot. If you’re worried about wind blowing the organic materials away in winter, consider putting the materials in plastic bags to hold them in place. In cold areas, use a 1-foot-deep layer of mulch. In warmer areas, use less. Add the mulch before a hard freeze. Have the kids experiment with the flavor of the root crops throughout the winter, tasting them each month and recovering the beds with mulch after each digging.