Gardening

Fall and Winter Gardening Update

Fall and Winter Gardening Update thumbnail

When most people think of gardening, it conjures images of warm weather and tomato plants. Sure, the spring and summer gardening seasons are amazing.

However, over the years, we’ve come to look forward to fall and winter gardening just as much as warm-season gardening.

A pile of delicious fall produce (purple kohlrabi, kale, perpetual spinach, and other greens, plus fresh citrus (kumquats, calamondin orange, and meyer lemons). We grow citrus in pots that we take indoors during the winter.

A pile of delicious fall produce (purple kohlrabi, kale, perpetual spinach, and other greens, plus fresh citrus (kumquats, calamondin orange, and meyer lemons). We grow citrus in pots that we take indoors during the winter.

Why? During the cool seasons (October – March in our Ag Zone), there are virtually no soil pathogens or pest insects to deal with. Plus, watering and maintenance is also drastically reduced. (As long as it rains once every couple of weeks, we don’t bother to water our fall/winter crops.)

Cool Season Gardening Techniques

The techniques and tools you use during the fall & winter gardening seasons might be a little different depending on where you live. For the past two winters, we’ve had unusually frigid temperatures, that have dropped down into the single digits.

Chinese Napa Cabbage - perfect for cole slaws or ferments. These will withstand a light freeze, but will be killed or damaged by temps lower than the low 20s.

Chinese Napa Cabbage – perfect for cole slaws or ferments. These will withstand a light freeze, but will be killed or damaged by temps lower than the low 20s.

You can see the resemblance between Chinese Napa Cabbage and this Bok Choy, both closely related members of the brassica family. Bok Choys will also be killed when temps drop below the low 20s.

You can see the resemblance between Chinese Napa Cabbage and this Bok Choy, both closely related members of the brassica family. Bok Choys will also be killed when temps drop below the low 20s.

That’s why we use simple-to-use polytunnel/hoop systems that essentially operate like miniature greenhouses. They help bring the soil and air temperatures 10+ degrees higher under our hoops. That translates into abundant harvests of veggies throughout the cold months. We pull back the plastic sheets anytime temperatures go over 55°F OR anytime precipitation is predicted.

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Our low-cost, simple polytunnel/hoop house system. We can put this up and take it down in under a minute.

Our low-cost, simple polytunnel/hoop house system. We can put this up and take it down in under a minute.

*If you want to buy an all-in-one polytunnel package + support wiring, here’s a good one from Tierra Garden.

If it gets too hot under your hoops, it can actually damage your cool weather plants or force them to “bolt” early (e.g. produce flowers and seeds). If you leave your beds covered during rain or snow, you aren’t letting moisture in and you also risk having your hoops collapse under the weight of frozen precipitation or a pool of rain water. (Snow actually insulates the surface of your plants so the temps don’t fall much below freezing–plus when it melts, your beds get a nice watering.)

So, if snow or rain is in our forecast, we uncover our hooped beds.

A dense bed of young kale and chicory growing under one of our polytunnels. We'll thin out and eat the weaker plants, leaving behind a few large mature plants that will produce greens well into the spring, eventually producing new seeds.

A dense bed of young kale and chicory growing under one of our polytunnels. We’ll thin out and eat the weaker plants, leaving behind a few large mature plants that will produce greens well into the spring, eventually producing new seeds.

What’s Grows Best In A Fall & Winter Garden?

Temperatures in the teens and single digits won’t necessarily kill the hardiest winter gardening goodies such as:

  • spinach
  • cilantro
  • chickweed
  • Austrian winter peas (their shoots are a delicious green and they’re a great soil-building cover crop)
  • certain cold-hardy kale varieties
  • mâche

Even uncovered, these exceptionally cold-hardy veggies can live through some seriously cold temps, although their growth rates might slow.

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Yum! Pea shoots taste almost exactly like sugar snap peas: sweet and delicious. Austrian Winter Peas are our favorite winter variety due to their exceptional cold-hardiness and delicious shoots. They also function as a cover crop, helping build soil fertility. We use them as a soil-feeding, weed-blocking mulch in the spring when we put in our summer crops.

Yum! Pea shoots taste almost exactly like sugar snap peas: sweet and delicious. Austrian Winter Peas are our favorite winter variety due to their exceptional cold-hardiness and delicious shoots. They also function as a cover crop, helping build soil fertility. We use them as a soil-feeding, weed-blocking mulch in the spring when we put in our summer crops.

Many people are surprised to learn that cilantro is an exceptionally cold-hardy winter green. We've had ours survive uncovered down into single digit temps. Even though it's usually associated with Hispanic cuisine, it actually originates from southern Europe and was brought to the Americas by conquistadors in the 1500s.

Many people are surprised to learn that cilantro is an exceptionally cold-hardy winter green. We’ve had ours survive uncovered down into single digit temps. Even though it’s usually associated with Hispanic cuisine, it actually originates from southern Europe and was brought to the Americas by conquistadors in the 1500s.

Other less cold-hardy cool-season varieties like broccoli, bok choys, lettuces, etc. will most certainly be killed by temps in the teens–if they’re not protected. That’s why it’s best to grow these more sensitive veggies under hoop houses/polytunnels.

Gorgeous young Palla Rossa, an Italian heirloom heading chicory.

Gorgeous young Palla Rossa, an Italian heirloom heading chicory.

There are literally thousands of varieties of produce you can grow during the fall and winter gardening season, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow food 365 days per year in your garden! And don’t be afraid of trial-and-error. That’s how you learn. Think about where you live, what techniques and technologies you need to grow there, and what resources you have–then get growing!

Red Mizuna mustard, a gorgeous edible landscape plant. Red Mizuna won't survive temps much lower than 30 degrees.

Red Mizuna mustard, a gorgeous edible landscape plant. Red Mizuna won’t survive temps much lower than 30 degrees.

The sooner you start, the more you’ll learn and the better growing results you’ll be able to have next year and the year after.

 

KIGI,

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