Have you noticed that many of the vegetables you're getting this winter are a bit sweeter than the summer veggies? That's because many of the crops increase their sugar content when they experience cold temperatures. One study (click here) found that cabbage plants exposed to cold, non-freezing temperatures increase their sugar content, which is correlated with cold tolerance. It seems the increased sugars are part of what helps the plants survive the freezing temperatures. This physiological factor is also a real treat for us, because it makes the carrots, greens, and other vegetables taste a little more like candy!
Weeding is an activity that could take up most of an organic farmer's time during the summer. But in winter, when the ground is not being watered and the cold temperatures mean plants grow slowly in general, the weed pressure almost ceases to exist! It takes almost no effort to keep the beds pristine, completely free of competing weeds.
Pests and diseases are another huge worry for vegetable farmers during the summer. While these pressures do still exist, there are fewer of them in the winter. I find myself battling slugs in the damp hoophouse soils, and some of the plants have suffered from diseases caused by over-watering in the fall; but overall, pests are close to non-existent. Many of the bugs die off or hibernate in the cold temperatures, and fungal diseases don't spread as rampantly in colder weather.
Fertility is another key to growing healthy vegetables. The goal is to start the plants in healthy, fertile beds in the fall, so that when microbial activity lessens in the soil in winter, there already are nutrients available to the plants.
All in all, the pressures to raise healthy plants are much less in winter. My main concern is planting them with enough time to grow to maturity and keeping them warm enough to survive! So I sincerely mean it when I encourage you to take this winter to slow down, kick back, and take your time enjoying your bites of sugar-loaded greens!
[Thank you so much for this wonderful essay, Devorah--it's a learning experience for all of us. Melinda]