Charging Into Winter Gardening

If you’ve tackled a big garden project on a hot summer day, you know how fast you can drain your internal batteries. The heat seems to sap it out of me. But as weird as it may seem at the height of summer, right now we should be recharging our garden’s batteries with some new plants for winter.

Peas in a pot

I planted peas in this pot next to my compost pile, and now they’re ready to be moved into the sun and under a trellis.

In the Maritime Northwest, August and early September are great times to plant. I’ll tell you what seedlings I’ve got in pots and in the ground right now, and what you can get from the nurseries in the coming weeks if you don’t want to sprout your own.

If you can start from seed, I recommend it. It’s amazing how quickly seeds will sprout in a summer garden. Parsnips, which are notoriously finicky seeds, sprouted in just four days during one of our recent warm spells. And they came up in such a prolific little forest that I had to get down there and do some serious thinning.

I’ve also started Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, beets, carrots, peas and arugula.

Beets

Beets and other seeds will sprout fast in warm summer soil. Be sure to thin to proper spacing. These beets need to be thinned to 4 inches apart.

Of course, with warm days and no rain, I’ve been hand-watering the seedlings to supplement my automatic watering regimen.

What to start now

Greens:

  • Arugula
  • Asian greens (mustards, bok choi, tatsoi, shungiku)
  • Corn salad (aka mache)
  • Cress
  • Endive/radicchio
  • Lettuce (Marvel of Four Seasons, Continuity, Merlot, Red Oak Leaf, Green Deer Tongue, Forellenschluss, Little Gem… so many – plant a rainbow salad!)
  • Swiss chard

Brassicas:

  • Broccoli (fall)
  • Broccoli raab
  • Cauliflower
  • Kohlrabi
  • Kale (choose Lacinato, aka Dinosaur/Palm Tree, the best tasting of all)
Dino kale

The best tasting kale, and very reliable in a mild maritime winter.

Roots:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Radish (winter varieties, like Black Spanish)

Alliums:

  • Leeks

More alliums go in later this fall, but you can plan now. Leave space for garlic and shallots.

Seeds or starts?

Most of these plants can be directly sown into the garden, and many of them can now be found as starts in good quality plant nurseries. I always recommend planting root crops only from seed, not transplanting.

If you’re starting from seed and want more control over the plantings, consider starting many of these in pots. It helps you keep a better eye on the seedlings to keep them well watered. You can move a flat of pots into the shade on hot days, or even protect them under some hoops and floating row cover for extra shade and to maintain soil moisture.

greens ready to plant

A flat of salad greens, ready for planting.

When space comes available in the garden and the plants have grown enough to establish hearty roots, you can transplant them. Remember that transplanting in summer is pretty stressful on young plants. Do it on a cooler, cloudy day if you can, and pay extra attention to watering until they’re showing new growth. You can also move the starts to a very large pot and keep them growing there until harvest.

Peas under a trellis

We’ll have plenty of peas for fall. I planted this batch along the house where spring salad greens had been.

More for fall

Also, plan ahead to fill the space when summer vegetables are done. Purchase a supply of cover crop seeds (often sold as a blend, which is a good way to go) and have them on hand to throw down when you pull out the tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc. You can plant a cover-crop blend up until late October.

If you have crops coming out even later, plant fava beans. They can be sown into early November and will reliably sprout in that late-fall cold soil.

Winter Garden Gets Its Blanket

We are having a White Christmas here in Seattle, with a gift to my garden (and me) of a nice blanket of sparkling snow.

Here are images from my garden today.

Merry Christmas!

yard

A Christmas view of our yard from the house.

brroccoli

Broccoli shoots peek out of the snow cover.

cloches

Glass cloches protect young plants from the snow.

cold frames

A plastic cloche covers lettuce, and a double window A-frame covers overwintering beets.

cold frame closer

The beets are tiny and might handle this cold, but I should have put ends on this double-window cold frame for better protection.

big bottle cloche

A big water bottle protects a young cabbage.

yard with cold frames

Cold frames in the background protect greens, but lots of brassicas fend for themselves under the snow.

Cold frames

The big cold frame in the back and the smaller Triangle Tunnel in the front both contain salad greens. I won’t open them until our warmer weather returns, but the tender greens should be fine. Snow is a great insulator!

dino kale

Dinosaur kale is tough!

parsnip

A Christmas stew is going to contain fresh parsnips, pulled today from the snowy ground.

Giving Thanks for My Winter Garden

A miniature forest of salad greens. Chittering songbirds cleaning the remaining bugs off my Lacinato kale trees. Delightful late-blooming flowers. Seedlings protected for winter growth. This is my garden at Thanksgiving.

Calendula flowering

Calendula is still flowering, providing a cheery spot in the garden and in the salad bowl.

Salad greens

Mixed salad greens, including arugula, bok choi, tatsoi, lettuce and Asian mustards are flourishing in this bed, and getting mowed down regularly for salads.

Tatsoi

Tatsoi.

Birds on kale

Sparrows, black-capped chickadees and a rosy finch (obscured, center) gather for a meal of bugs on my Lacinato/palm tree kale.

cabbages and broccoli

Cabbages and broccoli, with one cabbage covered.

Covered cabbage

I’m experimenting with winter growth of a cabbage under cover inside this giant water bottle. There’s another one uncovered right next to it.

cauliflower

Cauliflower setting its head.

Broccoli shoots

This DeCiccio broccoli might yet put on some side shoots.

Broccoli and tunnel

A purple sprouting broccoli and some winter radishes grow in front of a fleece-covered tunnel containing spinach.

Kale and trellis

Lacinato/palm tree kale plants grow against a bamboo trellis which held up cherry tomato plants last summer.

giant collards

Giant walking stick collards are ready to eat.

Pot and apple tree

A pot of spinach covered in garden fleece sits in front of an espaliered Akane apple tree that still has its leaves.

Spinach in pot

Red Kitten spinach grows with seedlings of parlsey and flowers in a pot.

Brussels sprouts kale hybrid

New hybrids of Brussels sprouts and kale promise a harvest of budding florets along the stem.

The first florets coming from the Brussels sprouts/kale hybrid.

Carrots and cold frame

The last of the fall carrot crop sits in front of a cold frame made of two window sashes, wired together. The easy cold frame holds overwintering turnips.

Cover crops

Cover crop of clover, vetch and rye helps build soil on this bed over the winter.

Visit from the Snow Gardener

We woke up to a few inches of snow today and it was still coming, so I ventured out into the yard and found that we’d been visited by a snow gardener. Clearly as ready to plant as I am.

snowgardener1

snowgardener2

snowgardener3

snow gardener 4

Results of Extended Cold Spell

Sunny, cold days have been the norm in Seattle for a number of weeks, which is “unseasonal” for us here in the Maritime Northwest. And it’s having a punishing effect on my overwintering edibles.

Starting with a snowstorm the second week of December, we’ve had what I’d call a hard winter, as “hard” relates to frost and freeze, that is. Many nights in the low 20s or even teens, and days when the thermometer barely tops 32. Freezing.

The effect has been mixed, according to today’s survey, done in balmy 42-degree sunshine. I opened the zippered front of the long plastic cloche, expecting to find slimy messes where my lettuce and radicchio starts were living, along with a seeded bed of mustard greens. Across the path, floating row cover blanketed a bed seeded with corn salad (mache). All had been alive after that December snowstorm, but I hadn’t uncovered these areas in weeks. Here is my delightful find:

salad cloche

Mustard greens have sprouted in the first bay of the cloche, and in the back two, Winter Density lettuce and Palla Rossa radicchio are standing tall. To the right of the path is thickly sown Vit corn salad.

You’re looking at Winter Density lettuce and Palla Rossa radicchio under the cloche, and Vit corn salad sprouted densely on the right, where the corner of the floating row cover has been removed. Definitely winners in a harsh environment. The existing leaves probably wouldn’t be desirable, but they provide a good base for new growth, which will find its way into late winter salads.

The cloche, which doesn’t look like it would provide much protection, is also a winner. It’s sitting on a raised bed made of stone, which helps radiate heat back into the bed, and I’ve placed stones in bare spots within the cloche to add to that effect.

However, a trek to the back 40 brought down my mood a bit. The purple sprouting broccoli has been shivering with just a smattering of straw mulch around its stems. It had bounced back after the snow melted in mid-December, but since then it’s been in severe retreat due to the cold nights. I should have covered it, but went away for Christmas, when the first cold nights really set in, and by the time I returned I figured it was too late. The cold has continued, with a brief letup, and I hope for the best. But here’s what it looks like right now:

PS Broccoli

“PS” might stand for pretty sad instead of purple sprouting in this bed of broccoli, but who knows, it may recover. Stay tuned as the weather warms.

Behind the broccoli, though, are two A-frame cloches, one covering carrots and the other beets. Although the edges of the cloches are frozen into the crusty soil, I can see green leaves through both of them, giving me hope that these two root crops are hanging in there.

beet and carrot cloches

I haven’t opened these cloches yet – their edges are frozen into the soil – but the beets (left) and carrots (right) still have good greenery.

Speaking of the crusty ground, it needs to be pried open like a stuck car-door in order to rescue a parsnip or two. But it’s worth the effort, as those roots have been nice and sweet.

Other above-ground plants have not fared well. A bed of parsley in an open cold frame is matted against the soil, although might recover. Slimy mounds that once were ruby chard hold less hope. Onions and celery root look OK, but haven’t been pulled yet. Kale, usually a staple in our winter garden, is suffering.

Taking stock of the successes and failures, I can see things I should have done: more mulch around the broccoli, maybe a floating row cover or cloche over it. Definitely much more protection over the poor chard. But just keeping myself warmly clothed on my rare forays out into the crisp weather has been enough of a challenge. I’ll chalk it up to experience and hope the broccoli will finally bounce back. Warmer weather is on the way; this week’s forecast is for high 40s daytime, and mid-30s overnight. I’m ready.

empty bucket

My harvest bucket is pretty empty on a mid-winter walk through the frosty garden landscape.

« Previous Entries