Plants bolting and going to seed at the start of the 2013 season have been an omen of subsequent problems this growing season. The sudden 90 degree temperatures followed by a colder than normal spring have confused the plants. Next came the heavy rains in May washing away many plants, forcing gardeners to replant. As a reprieve, many gardeners are now planting cool weather crops to extend the growing season.
With the introduction of “row covers,” cold frames, and garden greenhouses, gardeners can now keep growing plants practically all year long. So, instead of winding down as the temperature changes, many gardeners are switching gears, turning to cold weather, or frost-tolerant vegetables to grow. Although the focus is extending the gardening season, planning for next spring’s crop is important as well. This dual task is no easy job, but dividing my garden plots into two growing sections is one way of meeting this challenge.
The first section is designated for planting cold weather crops. Remember your fall/winter garden will influence your spring garden. So, plan carefully makes your winter gardening both enjoyable and rewarding to yield a bountiful spring crop. Keep in mind, successful cold weather gardening requires ground cover to protect some vegetables from frost, while others will do well without it.
For frost tolerance, collards are a favorite of many gardeners because they thrive during cold weather. Actually, a few frosts will enhance the favor of collards, sweetening the greens. Kale is another dark leafy vegetable that benefits from a frost. This partially explains why this hearty green is greatly valued for its nutrition. It is an easy plant to grown and yes, Kale is prominent in my winter garden. Other Brassica relatives–broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and turnips are plants to consider as well.
Preparing the soil for the fall crop is very much like the spring. The seed germination, however, requires a little more attention. A trick shared by Knopp’s Farm–a commercial grower is to cover the planted seeds after watering with wet newspaper which helps retain moisture, and provides a cozy environment. This will accelerate germination and prevent birds from eating the seeds before they germinate. Keeping the paper moist requires frequent trips to the garden, but you will be pleased with the results. This trick reduces the germination from 10 -14 days, to 6-8 days.
Selecting the “row covers” appears to be best solution for leaf lettuce, parsley, Pak Choi (Toy Choi, and Joi Choi)–Chinese cabbages, and nutty-tasting crunchy leaf Baby Catalina spinach. These are cold weather tolerant, but need protection from killing frosts. Row covers also protect plants against various insects—white flies, aphids, flea beetles, and leaf miners. However, insects are less of a problem as the temperature drops. A gardening neighbor has fashioned row covers using tomato cages to give support to the light weight fabric he drapes over cages. There are many variations of row covers.
As for the second section, this is designated for spring garden. This section is also for plants still producing that will remain in the garden. (Leek plants are a perfect example.) When they have reached their end, then it is time to think of composting. My circular compost is constructed of fence wire and chicken wire–the fence wire gives sturdiness to the construction, while the chicken wire adds another layer of holding the stacked compost ingredients in place.
There are many different composting techniques. Cornell University has an easy one to construct, and this is my second year of using their technique. Combined with composting, you need to prepare your garden to rest as explained in my December blog–preparing garden to “sleep.” This second section, designated for next spring, will have flat-cardboard boxes sandwiched between horse manure and leaf mulch. However, There are other methods, but instead restating the various methods, you will find more information in an earlier blog.
So, winter gardening is underway. Please share with me your experience to improve the success of extending the growing season.
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