Now is the Time to Prepare Winter Crops!

On the tip of every gardener’s mind in the summer is the question: “how can I make this last?” The wonderful hot summer days are perfect for reaping our harvests from the spring. Bountiful harvests are satisfying and therapeutic. We love it! Luckily, the vegetable season can be extended with the right planning.

I found a great book the other day called Sow Simple by Christina Symons and John Gillespie. Here are their seven steps for growing winter greens.

  1. Site Selection for the warmest, most sheltered spot in the garden. Watch the sun carefully over the year to see where the most exposure will land in the later months. The best place for a winter garden is an open, south-facing slope. Large rocks attract and trap heat for plants, and sandy, loamy soil retains heat better than clay. To lighten the soil for heat retention, compost and rotted manure should be mixed in if needed.
  2. Containers can be made from all sorts of driftwood, mill off-cuts, or rough-cut cedar, and raised beds have the added benefit of keeping warm for longer in the winter.
  3. Line the bottom of the bed with cardboard or newspaper. This will help smother weeds or lawn underneath.
  4. Compost soil mix is the best for your bed. High quality garden mix also works. You can also layer manure, seaweed, coffee grounds, lawn clippings, peat moss, sawdust and/or chips from (untreated!) wood, compost, sand, and leaves below a good four to six inches of top soil.
  5. Planting your bed for winter is a bit different. Leave lots of space between plants to allow light and discourage slugs from moving in. It’s ideal to have summer-planted pots of broccoli, kale, leek, cauliflower, cabbage, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, kohlrabi, parsnip, rutabaga, or turnip ready to plant up. These crops are not worried by frost, in fact they often benefit from it! Other crops are hardy but don’t love the frost as much. These include lettuce, arugula, chard, carrots, beets, parsley, spinach and cilantro. If you haven’t started your seedlings yet, now is the time! Otherwise, many nurseries stock vegetable bedding plants for fall and winter.
  6. Plant Covers protect your plants from the colder elements. A mini greenhouse can be built from Coroplast – a flexible plastic that lets light through. Another way is to use flexible PVC pipe as bracing.  Cloches can protect single plants or seedlings. These are made from bell-shaped glass or plastic. Large deli jars and semi-transparent milk jugs can help keep baby plants warm if you don’t want to buy from a nursery. If you’re looking for something more permanent, cold frames topped with clear plastic, glass or fibreglass collect heat from the sun. These can be portable or stationary. These covers work best in south or southeast locations with good drainage and adequate shelter. Walls and hedges that provide protection from cold breezes are helpful!
  7. Ventilation is critical to the health of your plants, especially in the warmer months. Raise the top of the cover during the heat of the day and close it in the afternoon to keep the heat in. If it gets really cold at night, you can put them to bed by insulating them with burlap sacks or old blankets.

Happy gardening! May it last over the many months of 2016!