Ideas for the Winter Garden
For the Gardener
Ideas for the Winter Garden
While much of the country shivers through winter with root-cellared summer grown crops and grocery store produce from warmer parts of the world, we here in Santa Cruz, California can be picking broccoli, parsnips, beets, leeks, lettuce and carrots straight from our gardens. All one needs is a little forethought and planning. While many of the above mentioned vegetables should already be in the ground and reaching maturity, October and November are still good times to plant some crops and great times to be planning and ordering seed for winter and early spring plantings.
The general rule of the green thumb for winter vegetable production is to have plants well established prior to the onset of winter's short days. Slower maturing crops, such as parsnips, celery and Brussel sprouts, need to be planted by mid-summer, around August. Broccoli, cabbage and carrots can be planted in the garden through September. And quicker maturing vegetables, such as turnips and kohlrabi may be planted through mid-October. Once established, these crops will hold in the garden and can be harvested throughout the winter. Leafy green plants that can be picked again and again, such as kale and chard, should also be full-size when the short days of winter arrive. Though not ideal, it is not too late to transplant kale and chard seedlings in late September and into October. The plants might not reach full size and be as prolific as earlier planted friends, but they will provide some nutritious green leaves come winter time.
Exceptions! For those of you still eager to sow seeds, Asian- type greens and greens being grown to be harvested as salad mix can be sown throughout September and into October. This includes: tat soi, bok choy, mizuna, arugala and spinach. Sow these greens inside or in place before the soil is too cold for germination (many winter vegetable seeds can germinate at soil temperatures of 45ºF but do better at 60ºF).
Prime Time for Artichokes and Peas!
A couple of days of planting in October and November will yield delicious spring harvests of artichokes and peas. Artichoke rootstocks should be planted in a spot where they can grow for a couple of years. Planted in October or November, the plants will produce edible buds come spring. For the earliest snow, snap, shelling or sweet peas, plant the seeds in the ground in November. They will grow slowly throughout the winter and produce flowers and fruit in early spring. Prepare pea ground generously and don't forget to provide support for the curly tendrils to grasp onto! Peas can be planted again in February and March provided the soil is dry enough to work. An unusual tasting and traditional broad bean, the fava bean, can also be planted during this time for a winter treat. The seeds are available through many catalogues.
Allied around Alliums!
Onions, garlic and leeks are all grown over the winter. Onion seeds can be sown in the ground during September, or inside in October and November to be planted out during the winter. Select onion varieties carefully, as whether they bulb or not is dependent on day-length. If an onion gets too many hours of light, it will begin to bulb before it is very big; if it gets too few, it might never produce a bulb. Intermediate- day onions do well in Santa Cruz planted prior to October 1st. Try: Red Torpedo, Stockton Early Red and Yellow and Fiesta. Green onions, onions planted densely and harvested before they make bulbs, can be planted year round.
Leeks can be planted almost anytime in our region. For big winter leeks, they should be transplanted during spring or early summer. Fall and winter planted leeks can be picked small in spring and will sometimes grow large but will often bolt as day lengths increase.
The optimal time to plant garlic cloves is October and November. The plants will have the longest time to mature before the bulbs are ready to harvest in summer. Plant extra cloves and harvest the fresh, mild green leaves of those whose bulb you do not hope to harvest. Remember alliums thrive in loose, fertile soil: ammend your beds with good compost prior to planting.
Many herbs - oregano, thyme, parsley, chives, chervil, mints - can be harvested throughout the winter. Generally, they should be well established prior to the onset of winter and picked lightly as regrowth during the cool, dark months is slow. Perennial herbs planted now or during winter, will become ready to harvest in late spring and summer.
Many bulbs and annual flowers can be planted in fall for early spring blooming. Spring and summer flowering perennial plants can be planted until the soil becomes too wet to work. Many perennial seeds can be planted now through early spring. Amonst the bulbs and rhizomes that can be planted in late fall: daffodil, lily, iris, tulip, day lily and ranunculus. Annuals and biennials that can be transplanted now or in early spring include: calendula, forget-me-not, foxglove, godetia, Johnny-jump-up, nasturtium, pansy, sweet alyssum. Quick-growing spring annuals, such as larkspur, snapdragon, bachelors buttons, calendula and nigella, do well started in January and February. (Flowers in italics are edible and great for spring salad mixes!)
Feeding the Soil
While it is true that your garden can be a winter cornucopia, it is also a time that you can focus on regenerating the soil - thanking it for the past and nurturing it for the future. October and November are ideal times to plant the cover crops that will protect your garden from eroding beneath the force of winter rains, provide organic matter and structure to the soil via roots , and feed next year's compost, soil and crops. Cereal grains that provide biomass, such as rye and oats, and legumes that "fix" nitrogen, such as vetch and bell beans, should be sown during late fall. The plants will mature in spring. Here at the Farm and Garden, the cover crops are considered "mature" when the legumes are 90% in flower and when the grasses are big with biomass but before they have produced seed.
Cover crops (or "green manures" ) can be incorporated directly into the soil or removed from the bed where they grew and transformed into compost. Feeding your soil is the most important element in your year-round garden. Cover crops also provide wonderful insect habitat and are beautiful. There are many options in selecting cover crops including beautiful clovers. Cover crop seed can be purchased through catalogues and at many garden supply centers.
A Winter Garden.
John Farrell, manager of the raised bed garden at the UCSC Farm, looks calm as he imagines the winter garden, "In winter, one witnesses the part of the garden that endures year to year: the soil, the lay of the land, perennials and the forms of trees. The annual garden is ephemeral- bright, hidden behind leafy vegetation and vivid colors. The winter garden is more subtle, cloaked in low light and short days." A garden can be planned to include winter fruits- citrus and persimmons, and nutritious greens- red russian kale and ruby chard. Winter can also be the most important time of a garden year as summer's compost matures, cover crops weave their roots into the soil, and gardeners order seeds, dig trenches and rest and enjoy the color of winter.
May this winter be a wet one! Enjoy.
This material was written by Melanie Mintz of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.