Friday, October 25, 2013

How to Grow a Fall and Winter Garden

(These are my snow peas.  I've got several that are about 2" long.  I'm veeeeeery tempted to try one because I haven't eaten anything but herbs and green onion out of my garden in several weeks, but I'll be patient and let them grow...I guess!)

I loved my spring and summer garden this year!  Though I have been gardening and interested in gardening since I was a child, it was the most variety I have ever grown, and I enjoyed my successes so very much and I learned a little patience with my failures.  

The only problem was that I started my spring and summer garden very late this year.  I started seedlings mid May!  So I barely got a spring crop at all, and with that started so late, my summer crop was also started late.  On top of that, I had a very disorganized and tiny amount of space.  I felt like I was just "getting it" late summer and when fall came, I hadn't gotten my fill.

I started reading more and more about fall and winter gardening, my zone (7b-8a) seems pretty happy to oblige a fall and winter garden, and so I decided to plant one.

Honestly, things may die.  We might not get anything out of it except for garlic (next summer) and experience.  However, I'm hoping that I've chosen nice little micro-climates in my yard that will provide some warmth and shelter.  I also did my best to chose plants that would survive the cold.  We'll see!  Here's what's growing:

Part of our home school curriculum is gardening.  Not only can you learn a skill, but about seasons, about the earth, how does a seed grow into a plant, anatomy of plants, etc., etc.  It really is endless!  My husband built these great little boxes that are 12"x 12" wide and about 18" deep.  They're perfect for the plants the kiddos picked out and they're easy for them to water and observe.

I am growing garlic for the first time!  I planted a Spanish Hard Neck as well as a Late Italian Soft Neck.  The Spanish is thriving and the growth is probably about 8" tall.  However, I hadn't seen my Italian yet, though I planted the Italian at the same time as the Spanish.  When I pulled the mulch back yesterday, I saw a little growth poking out of the clove!  I'm very excited!

Here's the Spanish Hard Neck bed.  There she grows!

This is one of the radish beds (breakfast variety?) in a bed that is not raised.  It's struggling.  Those are thinnings on the ground, by the way!  They are struggling because of the insects, I think.  Though I'm having a hard time seeing anything that's eating them.

I think plants, even smaller ones, know when they are in a raised bed.  For some reason (knock on wood!), the slugs and bugs (with the exception of a few spider friends) have not yet found this bed.  This is the awesome bed that my husband built for me out of re-purposed wood.  And my oh my!  My plants love this bed.  These are radishes (I think breakfast radishes) and rainbow carrots, which you can see coming up if you look closely.  I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to overwinter the carrots.  I haven't told my children that they're rainbow carrots.  I want it to be a surprise when we pull them up!

This is another one of my favorite beds.  The upper and lower rows are spinach, the center is more breakfast radish.  Yes, I went a little crazy with the radishes!  I wasn't successful growing them this summer (I started them too late in the spring!), so I'm trying several areas of the yard.

They are also a very quick crop.  I read that you can sprinkle them in when you sow carrot seeds as they grow fast and can be harvested shortly after your carrots are beginning to germinate.  They also mark the rows where you planted the carrots.  So I'm trying that!  They are also quite cold hardy.

Last but not least, the poor cement block bed that has been planted three times and is now a netted fortress of doom.  The garlic has been planted--1 clove in each hole of the blocks--carrots (baby and rainbow), radishes (Cherry Belle), one broccoli seedling that I saved from when my greenhouse blew over (grrrr), and the Bok Choy that I planted has germinated and we'll see how that does as well.

Because of the cat, I keep finding random radishes popping up all over the place.  However, I'll let them grow as I plan on putting some lettuces, broccoli and kale in here once they're germinated and grown a bit bigger in the greenhouse.  

To sum it up, Fall and Winter gardening is awesome!  I can't wait to see what makes it and what doesn't.  I'm having fun taking notes in my garden journal, and I'm hoping to record some crops.  I'll do a post next week about my little greenhouse and the happenings there.

Tips for Starting a Fall or Winter Garden:

-Choose your crops carefully!  Pick plants that are cold hardy.  

-Picking up  transplants from the greenery could be a good idea.  While you're there, ask them what you can grow in the winter.

-If it's too cold outside in your climate, try growing some herbs inside.  I'm planning on bringing some basil, parsley and rosemary inside for the winter.  I have a large window in my kitchen and I think they will look nice sitting on the windowsill.

-Don't forget to mulch.  It keeps the soil warmer and protects from frost.

-Grab some horticultural fleece.  If you have a night or two that will be colder than usual, these may just tide your plants over.

-Try lasagna gardening.  Or at least throw a thick layer of mulch (such as leaf litter, straw, pine needles, etc.) down and put your garden soil on top.  The mulch will create heat as it decomposes.

-Try to plant on the south facing side of the house.  This is going to get the most sun.  Also, a bed on the south side of the house with a wall on the west side would help keep a lot of heat in and would also protect from the wind to a degree.

-Buy a row cover.  They don't always protect from frost, but they can help keep the soil warmer.

-Don't be afraid to try something.  If it works, it works!  If it doesn't, try it in the "correct" season next year.

-Get a cold frame, hoop house over an existing garden bed, or a walk-in green house.  Even if you're just dealing with a plastic covered, unheated green house, it can prevent some insects from getting in and supposedly stay about 5 degrees warmer.  Even if you can't grow much, one of these suggestions will allow your spring and summer crops to come up a bit earlier.

Are you growing a fall or winter garden?  What did you plant?  What have you had success with in years past?

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