The zucchini is starting to produce and summer salads are a staple of evening dinners. It's tempting at this time of the year to put your feet up, relax and enjoy the bounty of your hard work. Yet by November, I'm often left wishing I had put in a little more effort in July so that I could harvest fresh food through the wintertime.
July is the ideal month to start a winter garden. A couple of weeks seeding and transplanting will result in a kitchen garden that will produce well into the springtime.
The first step is deciding what to grow. No need to restrict yourself to cabbage and Brussels sprouts, fall & winter gardening can include a variety of lovely edibles:
Cherry Belle Radish
Giant Red Mustard
Oregon Sugar Pod Peas
Red Russian Kale
Rouge D'hiver Lettuce
Scarlet Nantes Carrots
Time to plant
The next step is to find room in the garden. Although my squash plants are filling in every inch of their bed, I can usually find space where my spring veggies used to reside. Often enough, there's now room since the lettuce and early spring greens are all harvested. If it's still too early to pull out your plants, you find a small patch in the garden and start a nursery bed. I enjoy putting all my seedlings close together like this so that I can keep an eye out on watering and pest problems. The other option is to start seeds indoors and transplant them later. If I know I won't be around to water during the day, I try to start seedlings indoors. I do get much better germination rates and it does save quite a bit of space.
Once the seedlings have been started and are in place, they usually don't need any special care until about September. As the nights begin to cool, draping some of the less hardy plants like the winter lettuce and cilantro with a floating row cover protects them from light frosts. On the coast and in mild winter areas, a floating row cover is enough to protect seedlings from mild frosts, up to about 30 F (-2 C). In colder areas, a plastic cloche or a cold-frame can be used to keep these vegetables cropping.
One thing to keep in mind about growing under plastic is that plants will require extra watering since they won't receive any rainfall moisture.
Once plants like Kale & cabbage are hit by a good frost, you'll notice a remarkable difference in the taste. Most winter vegetables use sugar as a natural anti-freeze. As temperatures become colder, they fill their cells with sugar to prevent water in their systems from crystallizing. It's another added bonus to growing a winter garden!
Terra Viva Organics has developed a Winter Garden Kit - 14 varieties of certified organic seed that normally retail for $30 are being sold for just $16.99.
About the Author
Arzeena is an agronomist and gardenwriter for Organic Living Newsletter.