Not many people realise that our mild climate in Coastal Nova Scotia allows for some plants to grow all winter long.
Parsley, parsnips, leeks, and spinach will survive being frozen over. I plant parsnips in August for an April harvest. I have also heard encouraging reports from beets and turnips but have not tried these out.
Lettuce, radishes, arugula and peas won’t live through the winter but only take 4 weeks (radishes) , 6 weeks (lettuce and arugula) or 10 weeks (peas) to produce a crop, so it’s worth counting backward from the first frost date (October 20 in our area) to plant a fall crop. These cold-lovers won’t mind a light frost. Cabbage family crops also love cold weather, like cabbage and broccoli, so it’s worth planting in the heat of July for a second, October harvest. If you have a cold frame, you can extend your season even longer! There are also methods to preserve your harvest in the garden using lots of mulch, or by digging a trench. You can read Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes, pp. 4-11 , for more details.
Some carrots will survive the winter as well but are either corky or slimy and not worth eating.
July is a good time to plant onion sets. These seedlings will produce tiny bulbs which can be stored over the winter in a cool dry place to plant out again next spring and give your onions a head start.
After your August harvest is an ideal time to put in your winter crops, and take up the rest of the space with a green manure. Our heavy Nova Scotia rains can leach and acidify the soil, so make sure your nutrients are in use by a plant as much of the year as possible!
Self seedery gardening:
Kale, arugula and parsnips will seed themselves if you let them bolt. In their second year, these plants will send up a flower stalk (except for Arugula, which will bloom in its first year). This stalk will hang out for a long long time but in about 3 months will drop mature seeds. In another month or two you will see seedlings coming up underneath the mother plant. Each of these will get big, so be sure to eat enough seedlings to thin them to an appropriate spacing! They will live through the winter, and will themselves bloom in the spring, in what is technically their second year.
Within a year, you will never need to plant these babies again! There may be other varieties where this no-effort gardening is possible (please comment if you know of some!)