Vegetable Gardening in the “Off” Season
– lys Burden
Plucky vegetable gardeners have learned that they can harvest fresh organic vegetables from their home gardens all year round here with some special preparations. The first step is to study your setting for the best micro-climates you can find that will help your plants survive through winter and start growing in early spring. The best spots receive plenty of winter and early spring light and are sheltered from blustery southern winds.
In my own yard, I have plots close to the south-facing side of the house. They are somewhat sheltered by adjacent houses, trees, and shrubs that do not shade the area, but do buffer the wind. The best buffers still let the wind through but slow it down significantly. Solid fences and walls can cause increased wind turbulence at garden level.
Frost-hardy crops to be harvested in the winter can be tricky to start in July and August, but by planting them in spots sheltered from the hot summer afternoon sun, you can help them germinate and grow. Using wet burlap as mulch around tender new plant-starts and sheltering them with shade cloth can help.
The strategy is to grow your winter crops through the cooler fall months, so they are mature by the time the cold, dark weeks arrive and they go into stasis. Frost- hardy arugula, beets, sprouting broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, collards, kales, winter onions, leeks, lettuces, parsley, swiss chard, spinach, and turnips all do well in the ground through our typical winters. If it will be especially cold or wet, it is best to insulate them under frost cloth, topped by hoop row covers.
The WSU Extension planting calendar shows that fall-planted winter varieties of cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, garlic, and onions will survive January in your garden beds, then pop up as the days lengthen in mid to late February. At this time, you can also plant collards, corn salad, bulb onions, shallots, and peas outside. Under cloches and hoop covers, many more varieties, will grow, such as beets, carrots, Chinese cabbage, kale, radishes, lettuces, and more.
The off season is also an excellent time to plan next season’s garden and make sure all beds are either covered with mulch, or better yet, planted with a cover crop mix. It’s a great time to plan your next seasons crops and rotations as well as clean and store all those flower and vegetable seeds you saved.
If you are interested in expanding your gardening season but you’d like a little more information and hands-on practice, the WSU Jefferson County Extension is offering a six-week “Growing Groceries” class, starting in late February. The class includes six 3-hour classroom sessions, three outdoor workshops for hands-on practice, and one movie matinee. Classes will start on February 25th and meet every subsequent Monday afternoon until April 1st. The curriculum includes garden design, crop planning, soil improvement, bug study, integrated pest management, and best cultivation practices. For more information, contact Bridget Gregg at [email protected] or 360-379-5610 x 210.
Hoop row covers can be made in many ways to accommodate plants of all sizes. The most sturdy can be fashioned inexpensively from 2-foot pieces of rebar, metal, or plastic electrical conduit, or 5/8 inch poly pipe. The cover material Agribon (reemay) is permeable and available at local hardware stores, in garden catalogs, or online.
Burden, Lys. “Vegetable Gardening in the “Off” season.” Commons: The Food Co-op Quarterly Newsletter. Port Townsend, WA. Winter 2019: 17.