Start a Winter Garden Now

Vegetable gardening doesn’t have to end in the fall in our mild maritime climate. With some planning and a few specialized techniques, you can be growing and eating food from your garden year-round.

Floating row cover with fiberglass hoops

Floating row cover with fiberglass hoops protecting lettuce seedlings.

Imagine… crisp winter cabbages, sturdy kale leaves to chop into hearty soups, amazingly sweet early-spring carrots, and so many fall greens and peas that you’ll think it’s spring again!

Growing food year round is the topic of my forthcoming book Cool Season Gardening. To contribute to the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge, I’ll share a few tips from the book.

Two keys to success

There are two keys to year-round edible gardening: timing the planting of your fall and winter crops, and using season extension techniques.

Season extension means using cloches, cold frames, floating row cover and other tools and methods. These are set up in the garden in fall, winter and early spring to protect your plants from our rainy winter weather. Those soggy, short days are too cool for many veggies to handle.

Season extension will help your plants get through those days and start growing again on nice days or when the growing season begins in early spring.

But that’s a lot to tackle, so I suggest starting more simply. Let’s talk about timing.

Right now, in early July, is the perfect time to be thinking about your winter garden.

It seems unfair, because we really haven’t been blessed with summer weather yet. I maintain that summer in the Maritime Northwest doesn’t start until July 15. Weather guru Cliff Mass said July 12 on his KPLU radio forecast this week, so I don’t think I’m far off.

Quick, easy start

While we’re waiting for summer, let’s plan for winter. Here are three things to do now to get an easy winter garden started:

  1. Look for space for your winter garden. Time to pull up the garlic? Are the peas just about finished? These could be your spaces for fall and winter vegetables. Amend the soil with compost and maybe a sprinkling of an organic, slow-release fertilizer and get ready to sow.
  2. Get some seeds of easy fall and winter crops. Kale and Swiss chard can be planted now, and by mid-July you can plant fall peas and root crops, like carrots and beets.
  3. Shop for some “garden fleece” and get ready to use it. The generic term is floating row cover (FRC), and it comes in brand names Reemay, Season Extender or Frost Blanket.

When you first plant your seeds, cover them loosely with a piece of FRC, held down at the edges so the wind won’t take it. You can water right over the top of it. Water, light and air go through. It will help keep the soil from drying out quite as fast between waterings, which is essential for a good start of summer-planted seeds. Pull it off when the seedlings start to push it up.

From the vast brassica family to root crops to a parade of leafy greens, start planning now so you can have a stellar lineup of home-grown food on your table year-round.

Want to learn more about winter gardening?

Come to my workshop at City People’s Garden Store on Saturday, July 15. It’s free, but registration is required.

4 Responses to “Start a Winter Garden Now”

  1. Thanks for these great tips! Just the extra push I needed to get my seedlings in the ground this weekend 🙂

  2. Kim says:

    I am a first time gardener in Central NC. The heat wave two weeks ago killed my broccoli seedlings (statred new ones this week). I am ver excited! I have planned an edible landscape on the north side of my house, first a row of broccoli, than in front of the broccoli, beets, carrots, and onions planted in aletrnating patches, than a border of early and late cabage. I have a raised bed reserved for mustard, and plan to plant collards and turnips as a border along the south and west side of the house. The east side of the house is entirely shaded by an oak tree that towers above our roof. Do you think there is anything that can be grown in the shade of the oak and florish when the leaves fall (maybe lettuce)?

  3. Hi Kim,
    Sorry to hear about your broccoli succumbing to the heat! Here in the cool Pacific Northwest, we usually don’t have trouble keeping it alive even in summer, but I’m not sure if such cool-season vegetables could take the heat where you are.

    I’m also not sure what you might grow in the shade of the oak. One thing I do know about oak trees: their leaves make great mulch and compost. Be sure to bag them or compost them this fall. You can shred them with a string-weeder in a 5 gallon bucket and apply them around your veggies as a winter mulch too.

    To figure out what to plant and the proper timing, my suggestion (as a proud new Master Gardener here in Seattle) is to seek out the Master Gardeners in your area and get some expert, localized advice from them.

    If you don’t have MG’s, you probably have a County Extension Service that is connected to the state agricultural college. In most places, either or both of those organizations provide free advice to gardeners.

    Good luck, and post a picture of your garden for us to see! – Bill


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