In the Garden ...
Prepping For The
Winter Garden by Craig Lore
The first signs of spring appear when the vegetable seed catalogs arrive in January by mail . Every year , we admire the bright photos and read the colorful descriptions before ordering new varieties and old favorites for the spring planting . We sow , water , weed , fight pests , and harvest from spring through fall . But while we ’ re browsing those catalogs for the summer garden , we ’ re also ordering for the winter . As backyard gardeners in California , we don ’ t have any seasons , just transitions . With our mild Mediterranean climate , California is the largest food supplier in the U . S ., despite having only four percent of the nation ’ s farms , according to the “ Ag Hires ” blog .
Eliot Coleman , who lives in Maine , writes in the introduction to his book , “ Four-Season Harvest ,” that “ The surprise of our winter garden ( and yours , too ) is how simple it is . Winter vegetables will thrive in any winter climate with a little protection from wind and weather . No heating or high-tech systems are necessary . The keys to success are a new attitude and new crops .”
These “ new crops ” that Coleman references are not new to us ; they are just new to our vegetable patch . Cool season vegetables that are grown in warm weather will bolt — flower too soon — and taste bitter , but in cold weather , they thrive . Cool season veggies include arugula , beets , bok choy , broccoli , endive , Brussels sprouts , cabbage , carrots , celery , garlic , kale , leeks , lettuce , mache , mustard greens , onions , peas , radishes , and spinach . Cool season gardening is actually easier than warm season : no hot sun ( though , maybe , rain ), fewer insect pests ( though more slugs and snails ), and fewer weeds .
A “ little protection ” from winter weather is the key . In 2011 , we planted a huge winter garden using low tunnels created out of ten-foot lengths of half-inch PVC pipe bent into hoops over our raised beds and then topped with row cover . Row cover is a spun polyester fabric that is placed over the bed and acts as a blanket to warm the plants and soil . It comes in rolls or sheets of various widths and can be cut to any length . It can be purchased at garden stores or through online sources like groworganic . com . At the end of the season , roll up the row cover and store it away . With care , it can be reused for three to five years .
Low tunnels can be made from any length of PVC , or you can “ float ” the row cover right on top of a garden bed , raised or not , without making a tunnel at all . Maintenance of the tunnel , or floating cover , is easy — at night we attach the row cover to the frame , or to the ground if the row cover is floating , and in the morning , we pull it back . Rain will filter through the cover , and you can water through it , but it ’ s better to pull it back , or install a drip system beneath the cover .
You don ’ t have to go crazy to reap the benefits of a winter garden : Keep it small and close to the house , plant in containers , or in the ground , and use row cover overnight . Planting
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