Follow these steps to cool season success.

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Take a mental photograph of your garden during this coldest time of year. What is growing now? How does the garden compare to itself in other seasons? Try to recall how it was in fall, summer, and spring. When did the garden peform best?

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Observe your garden’s strengths and weaknesses in winter weather. Do plants receive adequate light? Where are the coldest and warmest spots? Notice microclimates– zones in the garden with different climactic conditions such as cold air streams, moist shade, or wind exposure–and take a moment to map them if possible. This will pay off next year when it’s time to decide what to plant where.

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What design problems can you solve now to make your next winter garden even better? Try tinkering with planting plans to maximize your harvest and enjoyment. Does the low angle of the sun in winter cause a nearby structure to cast a long shadow over a crop that needs full sun? Should taller vegetables be moved to the back of the bed? Will you get more peas if you relocate the onions?

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Has any crop been negatively impacted by seasonally active insects or critters? Environmental damage? Persistent cold-weather weeds? Noticing and solving these problems now can stop them from recurring in future winters.

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If you have been gardening for more than one year, think of how this winter compares to previous winters. You may remember harvesting eggplants one December but hardly any spinach. Gardening memories like these tell you something important about the weather that year—it was warmer than average. Recollections of your garden and its seasonal variations will help you notice patterns over time and make weather predictions to improve your yield.

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Did you plant the right amount of each crop? Is there too much of one vegetable or too little of another? How will you update your plant list next winter to better meet your needs?

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Consider your kitchen. How satisfied are you with your winter diet? Do you crave comfort foods in winter? Root vegetables? Sweets? If you dream of making lavender cookies but are stuck with a garden full of beets, note this for next year. Focus on simple, practical changes you can make to “sync up” your kitchen and garden.

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Pay attention to your energy level, mood, schedule, and eating habits as these relate to your winter garden. You may want to keep plantings very simple in winter. On the other hand, the brisk weather might invigorate you to daydream, experiment, and expand, using season extenders like frost blankets, cold frames, or even a greenhouse to grow a greater variety of crops. With each season of experience, you can better tailor your garden to your personality and lifestyle.

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Learn to appreciate your garden’s limitations and idiosyncrasies. Embrace the unexpected by allowing what grows in your garden to influence your meal plan, instead of keeping it strictly the other way around. A veggie bed that ‘misbehaves’ occasionally can introduce a refreshing element of whimsy into a drab winter diet. Maybe you didn’t plan to grow so many rutabagas this winter, but the seeds just spilled out of the packet by accident. That’s what happened—so, go with it!

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