How I Prepare My Garden for the Winter
It seems odd to be thinking of winter so soon after midsummer and just after summer has finally decided to arrive in Seattle. Most folks don’t even have ripe tomatoes, zuchinis are just poking up and my fourth, and finally not slug-eaten round of cucumbers are thinking about stretching out to 9 inches or so on the trellises.
The truth is, if you were planning on growing things for winter you should have had them in a month ago. As always, I’m a little late but closing the gap each year as I get more seasoned at winter gardening.
I started many things in trays just after midsummer, and they were promptly munched on by slugs so I’ve since moved them indoors. I hate wasting the electricity for grow lights in the summer, but this is an unusual year and I want some broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages to eat come late fall, winter and spring.
The hard part for me is planting things that should go into the ground just when we are leaving for vacation, and any new seedlings would certainly not get the loving attention they need in the strong summer sun.
Those things will likely always be late for me: beets, carrots, spinach, lettuces, parsnips, salsify, kale, parsley, arugula, mustard and rapini. Hopefully they will be timely enough that they’ll be done growing before the days are too short for them to come into their own.
After a spring and summer of growing, I would love to grow a green crop to replenish the soil, but there never seems to be enough time in my small garden to replenish before the winter crops need to get in.
I hate to leave brix up to fertilizer, however, so I’m amending my garden beds with compost in between. When these crops come out in early spring I’ll plant two rounds of green manure.
This will be forage for the chickens, who will poop it out and turn it under while helping control soil born pests. Check out my chicken tractor that I use to keep them confined to only the part of the garden I want them to eat from.
This summer my garden has been home to so many diseases and pests I’ve lost track: cherry canker, mildew and apple scab, aphids, leaf miners, carrot weevils, symphylans, caterpillars, slugs and snails. I’m diligently rotating crops and keeping an eye on populations. Only time will tell if this is a house of cards or not.
In the meantime, I’ve had to shift the winter carrots over from the carrot bed still housing late summer/fall carrots into the recently vacated beet bed. The beet bed is riddled with leaf miners but I’m hoping to escape the carrot weevils that are in the carrot bed.
I’m using some compost but not too much so as to encourage the symphylan population. How much is too much? Ask me in a few years. I’m making this up as I go. I was recently asked how I had managed to get such nice long carrots as the ones I was photographed harvesting in early June.
Carrots put down a central tap root very quickly and they continue as long as the soil is nice and airy. Once they strike clay, dried dirt, rocks or other obstacles they stop and begin to add girth.
Anytime I plant carrots, I spend about an hour first forking the dirt, adding some compost, and then ultimately breaking up each clod with gloved hands to a depth of about 12 inches. This is not at all necessary to grow carrots, but it is in Seattle if you want nice long ones.
Once I have my carrots sewn, I cover the beds with remay and keep the soil evenly moist. Once it gets dried out, it hardens and forms clumps again. It can take up to two weeks for carrots to germinate and then another couple of months for them to mature. I plant them twice per year so I don’t mind this extra work.
Carrots are the vegetable that most kids love to pick and eat themselves, and I have a veggie averse child so I’m trying to ensure we have carrots on hand at that magical moment he decides he’s going to try them.
The other thing you need to do to ensure nice, large carrots is to thin them. If there isn’t sufficient space around each carrot they won’t continue to fill in. You can thin them by picking and eating the tiny carrots though, so I don’t mind that task.
Here’s a link to my seed starting schedule blog post where you can find my list of winter crops. It’s very similar to what you’ll find on The Modern Victory Garden, except she has a greenhouse and some of the varieties are different.
So how about you? Have you started your winter crops yet? And what all have you harvested for winter eating?