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Urban Farming in Winter. What to Grow and How

When winter comes and chill descends on urban landscapes, we may conjure images of barren fields and dormant crops. However, things are quite different in the world of urban farming, showing that agriculture thrives even in the coldest months. As winter blankets cities in frost, urban farmers are employing innovative techniques to sustain their crops and bring a touch of green to the concrete jungle.



Indoor Vertical Farms


Urban farming takes a vertical leap during winter with indoor farming practices. Vertical farms use stacked layers to maximise space and optimise growing conditions. Controlled environments with artificial lighting, temperature regulation, and hydroponic or aeroponic systems enable the cultivation of a variety of crops throughout the winter months. From leafy greens to herbs, these vertical farms offer a year-round harvest.


Although vertical farming may sound like one of the latest agricultural innovations, the idea behind it dates to ancient times. Babylonian Hanging Gardens are the first example of vertical farming applied around 2,500 years ago.


Cold-Resistant Crops


Winter doesn't mean a complete halt to outdoor urban farming. Here is a list of cold-resistant crops that can withstand cold temperatures. They are spinach, onion, garlic, leeks, rhubarb, rutabaga, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, corn salad, arugula, fava beans, radish, mustard greens, Austrian winter pea and turnip crops.


Greenhouses and High Tunnels


Greenhouses and high tunnels function as shields against the harsh conditions of winter. These structures create a microclimate that protects plants from extreme cold, wind, and snow. Urban farmers leverage these enclosed spaces to extend the growing season, cultivating a diverse range of vegetables and herbs.


Experienced farmers advise that one of the keys to winter harvesting is planting early enough to give the crops a chance to get close to maturity before the short days of winter. When the day length drops below 10 hours, the plants won't be actively growing but, if you have chosen cold-tolerant varieties, they will be able to withstand freezing and thawing so that you can harvest them all winter.


Smart sensors like Farmer Charlie could provide farmers with real-time data on their soil conditions and weather temperature, assisting them with the right crop choices.


Hydroponics and Aquaponics


Hydroponic and aquaponic systems bring efficiency to urban farming, particularly during winter. These soil-less methods provide precise control over nutrient delivery and water usage. Aquaponics, combining aquaculture with hydroponics, introduces fish into the system, creating a symbiotic relationship that enhances nutrient cycling and promotes plant growth.


Microgreens Cultivation


Microgreens, nutrient-packed young seedlings, flourish in indoor spaces, making them an ideal winter crop. These miniature greens are not only rich in flavour but also quick to grow. Urban farmers can capitalise on their high market demand while maintaining a sustainable and compact cultivation footprint.


There are numerous video guides about how to grow microgreens. A useful video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKJikZlOAVw 


As our cities evolve and increasingly embrace sustainable practices, urban farming can become an integral part of the urban landscape, offering fresh produce, and demonstrating that winter is just another season to sow, grow, and harvest.


Have you ever grown something at home during the cold season? Share your experience here and let’s grow together!


-Marina Novokhatska

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