Thursday, March 1, 2012

Winter Gardening (Trials, Tribulations, and Lessons Learned)

Winter gardening is not for sissies!  Especially when it is your first year of it and you are prepared only with the desire to do it. 

Our garden started this year with a planting of greens in the upper yard.  They were not planted until November so were too tiny to get through the winter without assistance.  Right away we set up a system for covering them which consisted of a few pieces of firewood to keep plastic off of the infant leaves. As time went on and incremental growth ensued, we put out larger and larger pieces of wood and built a webbing of bamboo to achieve the same result.  Whenever it was warm enough the plastic would be laid back only to be returned when the temperature dropped again. 

When the greenhouse was built I planted cabbages, broccoli, and collard greens right away.  I wanted to get them out in the garden as early as humanly possible.  A few weeks ago the greenhouse was bursting at its seams and the cabbage family plants had five leaves (that is the indicator for putting them outside).  So, we put them in the ground on a beautifully sunny day.  Two days later it was going to get nasty, so I diligently built them a well mulched bed.  I started with cardboard all around the plants and between rows.  We held the cardboard down with corn stalks, long weed stalks and anything else we could come up with.  This coarse mulch was then covered with bag after bag of leaves collected from the roadside down near the creek.  Each plant was now nestled in a cozy pit of organic matter.  Another advantage of this thick mulch was that it did not require the bamboo scaffolding to keep the plastic off the plants.  We have had a number of below freezing nights since then and we have lost a few of the smaller weaker cabbages, but by and large the patch is surviving nicely.
 Collard Greens in their mulch bed

Next, we planted peas.  My neighbor assured me that we were planting them way too early. "Wait till March!" she said.  But we were determined.  For quite a while it seemed that we had wasted that 6 dollars worth of seed but just last week, a few tips started emerging.  Now many of the baby pea plants are about an inch tall.  We have a couple of cold nights coming up so we will probably throw some old tarps over them, just to be on the safe side.
 Baby Peas

The most interesting early planting in my mind was the beets.  I read this winter that you can sprinkle beet seeds (or any other root vegetable) out in a planting flat and when the plants get to be about two inches tall you can pull the individual plants out and drop them into the ground and they will grow!  I had always thought that root crops needed to be direct seeded, so this seemed like a fun experiment.  We planted one flat of Detroit Dark Reds and a flat of Sugar Beets.  Early last week we but them out in the garden.  Once again two days before a frosty night.  Out came some more bags of leaves.  We put a thick covering over the little plants and held them down with tall weed stalks.  The leaves stayed, and although it took almost a week for the planting to really take hold, they are now standing up and gaining strength.
Beet Revival!

So, what did we learn?  First of all, plant those greens earlier.  September at the latest.  If you push till October they may not get enough growth to last the winter.  Second, put those collard greens out when you plant the other greens.  As for the cabbage and broccoli, restrain yourself and plant them just a tiny bit later.  These few changes will drastically reduce the time and energy spent covering and uncovering stuff in the garden.  The beets might even benefit with just a week or two more time in the greenhouse.  A little more preparation should make next year's winter garden run much more smoothly!

Here is the garden all snuggled up for a freezy night.
Greens in the foreground, then cabbage family, the beets (under the weedy looking stuff)
then peas and finally the raised herb garden.


Anonymous said...

Looking good. Plastic always scares me around plants but with the leaf method first I don't see a problem. I love all your tips on how to do it.

Jen awJ said...

Any recommendations for starting the tomato seeds you sent me? And are lettuces/spinach a fall/winter only crop, or can I start some now? I am so new to all this - debating just trying to grow things in pots in the backyard since we may well move to a new locale come September when our lease is up. Any suggestions for container vegetable gardening? :)