Monday, May 31, 2010

Winter Gardening

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on February 5, 2010 at 10:00am at Check for recent posts.

We are blessed with a mild winter climate. Most years, we can have something fresh from the garden all year. It's that year round gardening that really saves money. For four glorious months, Bellingham is full of fresh local food. The rest of the time, growing even some of your own is a big boost.

The winter garden is planned now, started from June through September, and eaten all fall and winter and into next spring. Winter gardening relies on vegetable varieties that grow in the summer and early fall and then just sit there as the weather cools, waiting to be dinner. While you are planning your winter garden, give some thought to which neighbor you can recruit to water while you are gone on your summer vacation.

Territorial Seeds has a special Winter Gardening Catalog with varieties chosen for winter hardiness in our bioregion. It comes with a great summary calendar of when to start what and when to transplant it. The Winter Gardening catalog comes out in May. Call and ask them to put you on the list. They will also kill a bunch of trees by sending you several other catalogs a year. Good luck getting out of that one.

The classic reference on year round gardening is Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest by Binda Colebrook, now retired to where else, Whatcom County. Seattle Tilth publishes an invaluable pamphlet called Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, which has month by month lists of what to start inside and what to direct seed, with specific variety recommendations. Both are well worth actually buying, because you will find yourself referring to them over and over.

I met Binda at the 1st Annual Seed Swap and of course I had to tell her the book was great. She gave me the sharp look of someone who has heard that way too many times and asked, "Yes, but did you just read the book, or did you DO it." Well, actually, I lived off it for several winters.

As you read the back of seed envelopes in the grocery store (a dangerous pastime) or the glossy garden pornography that the seed companies send you (an even more dangerous pastime) look for varieties that say "suitable for fall planting" and "winter hardy".

The core of the winter garden are large, dense brassicas: kale, broccoli and cabbages. Cabbages are named by when you eat them, for example a "fall cabbage" or January King. There are cabbages for every season. Look for broccoli varieties that are bred for the fall season and say "good sideshoot production". You don't have a lot of room in the small urban garden. You want broccoli that will keep producing smaller florets after you cut the central head. This is not what commercial broccoli varieties are bred for, look for the heirlooms: DeCicco, Waltham, Umpqua.

Kale is a stalwart of the cool season. There is a colorful variety of heirloom kales. Kale is easy to maintain in the garden, easy to save seed from, and if you keep cutting it back and feeding it with a little compost, you get "perma-kale". It just keeps coming back for you. Kale bolts in warm weather. In summer, there are so many delicious greens available that a person hardly needs kale. As the weather cools, I find myself looking forward to a kale and leek frittata for breakfast.

It was a tradition, back on the block, to grow a brussels sprout plant for holiday celebrations. If you've ever seen brussels sprouts growing, the plant can get three feet tall and the brussels sprouts stick out in knobs. Cauliflower is fussy and doesn't make side shoots. Both are fun to experiment with, but you don't get much food for the space occupied.

Mustard and fast growing Asian greens like bok choi are sown from late July through September, in stages to give a long harvest. Look for fall spinach, lettuce, chicory, endive, radicchio and other traditional European greens. Chard grows wonderfully in the fall, dies back in the cold, and puts out new tender leaves as soon as it warms up a bit. Keep cutting it and you will get perma-chard.

I like beets for winter salads. Beet greens are hardier than lettuce and the root will overwinter and put out new leaves in spring. Just separate your cutting beets from your root production beets, because you won't get tender leaves and good bulbing from the same plant. Lutz Winterkeeper is a designated overwintering beet. I have also had good results from Yellow (for leaves), Bull's Blood and Detroit Dark Red.

Next: Alliums and roots for winter gardening

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