Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Winter Garden: How to Time Plantings

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

There are even winter-hardy lettuces: this is Brune D'Hiver ("winter brown")

Unlike summer vegetables, which tend to be New World annuals (or tender perennials) like corn, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and zucchini squash, most winter vegetables are Old World biennials which need to over-winter in order to flower and produce seed during their second year.

Old varieties of chicory, kale, many cabbage family relatives as well as root crops like radish, turnip & carrots have provided Europeans with fresh winter vegetables since ancient times. It is always fun to experiment with which varieties grow best in Philadelphia winters, but timing when to plant can be tricky.

When planning your winter vegetable garden, keep in mind that even frost-hardy plants slow and almost stop growing when there are less than 10 hours of daylight per day. In Philadelphia, which is longitude 40 degrees (same as Madrid, the “boot” of Italy, Greece and Denver) this happens November 11 through January 20.

Therefore, you want your plants to reach maturity before November 11, even though it is fine to continue to harvest through this “dark” period. Look at your seed packets for “days to maturity” and subtract that from November 11 to get the last date you can plant that particular variety. This will give you a general timeframe and a “last date” to plant, but of course you can always plant earlier, depending on heat and bugs and whether you have space to plant or have to wait till something else finishes producing.

The longest-maturing plants for me this winter are brussels sprouts and radicchio (90 to 110 days to maturity). My friend Amy is setting up gro-lights in her basement and we are going to plant this weekend (July 21-22). The plants should be big enough to put out in the garden before it’s time to start the kales & collards in late August (these take about 60 days to maturity). The reason we are starting seed indoors is neither of us has any unused garden space right now and we want to avoid harlequin bugs and the searing heat and drought of late July/August.

Direct-seeded things like carrots, winter lettuce & arugula can be planted in Aug/Sept, while turnips, beets & spinach go in Sept/Oct. A little mulch will give them additional winter protection. Winter spinach won’t germinate unless it is quite cool (look for a variety called Gigante D’Inverno — “giant of winter”), so it should be planted late (mid Oct or later).

There are many pleasures in winter gardening — the weather is cool and refreshing, the skies turn deep blue and autumnal, the bugs have closed up shop for the season, you seldom have to water — and the thrill of harvesting ingredients for a fresh salad in mid-December just can’t be beat!

And many winter-hardy plants get even sweeter and better-tasting after the first frosts: apparently sugar is a mild anti-freeze and many plants convert some of their starches to sugar with the onset of cold weather. Kale and collards are great examples of veggies that taste even better after they are kissed by a frost or two.

NOTE: My source on winter gardening is Eliot Colman’s Four-Season Harvest. Eliot grows veggies commercially in Maine throughout the winter in unheated poly-tunnels, but since Philadelphia is so much milder, we don’t have to bother with much of the paraphernalia that Eliot is forced to use.

NOTE2: Winter veggies you might consider: Arugula, Winter Spinach (has thick, extra-large, crinkly leaves), Cabbage (including the oriental cabbages), Kale (Tuscan & Red Russian are especially good), Carrots, Beets, Turnips (including oriental turnip and mustard greens), Winter Lettuces, Radicchio, Endive, Radishes (Daikon & Chinese “Beauty Heart” are an interesting change from the small red & white ones), all kinds of Chicory, Broccoli Rabe, Brussels Sprouts, Collards, Escarole, Sprouting Broccoli, Dandelion Greens, Garlic (harvest in the spring), Fava (harvest in late spring), Chard (your summer chard will survive the winter if you leave it in the ground), Peas & Snow Peas (a before-Christmas treat), and others which I don’t have the space to mention…

…Oh, and don’t forget that early fall is a great time to replant the cilantro and dill that went to seed and died during the heat of summer. If you have coriander seeds in your pantry, just plant those to get fresh coriander a.k.a. cilantro without having to order seeds. You can do the same with dill seeds if you have them.

–Barb Mc

A Four Season Farm in Maine

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Pauline sends this link from the NYTimes about Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch’s farm in Maine, where they use unheated greenhouses to raise crops in all four seasons.

Link to article, “Living Off the Land in Maine, Even in Winter”.

View Slide Show of Photos from Article.

Winter Dreams & Seed Catalogs

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Dreaming over seed catalogs helps gardeners survive January and February when it is too cold outside to garden. Here are some of my favorite seed companies — please post a ‘comment’ if I am forgetting one of your faves and I will add it to the list.

The most beautiful seed catalog ever is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Baker Creek is fantastic source of heirloom seeds collected from all over the world by founder Jere Gettle and his wife Emilee. They carry some truly unusual seeds — including 49 varieties of eggplant and separate sections on American, Asian, and European melons.


Comstock Seeds is New England’s oldest seedhouse, dating back to around 1811. It has a colorful history which you can read about in the catalog (for example, they were the first to package seeds in paper packets the way we buy most of our seeds today). The company is in the process of being restored to its former glory and the catalog has over 250 heirloom varieties which were offered by Comstock Ferre over the years.


Seeds from Italy is the U.S. mail order distributor for Franchi Sementi of Bergamo, Italy — Italian seedsmen since 1783 and the oldest family-run seed company in the world. They specialize in traditional heirloom Italian varieties, selected over the years for good taste & productivity. The majority of Franchi’s vegetable seeds are still commissioned and continue to be produced in their home regions. Specialty seeds from Southern Italy are supplied by a small company in Andria, Bari. Their online catalog also contains recipes to help you “think like an Italian cook.”


Johnny’s Selected Seeds, based in Winslow Maine, is an employee-owned company with a huge catalog of vegetables, fruits, flowers, farm seed, herbs and very nice tools & supplies (they even have Eliot Coleman designed tools). They specialize in “organic” seeds and plant breeding (they developed Bright Lights Chard). Johnny’s was founded by Rob Johnston in 1973. Rob called his company Johnny Apple Seeds until he discovered that another company had copyrighted the name. Many SWQV Gardeners order seeds from Johnny’s.

Burpee Gardening is perhaps America’s most famous garden catalog. Founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by W. Atlee Burpee, who later bought Fordhook, a farm in Doylestown, and transformed it into a world-famous plant breeding facility. I look to Burpee for new varieties and hybrids (like the fabulous Brandy Boy tomato), although it is fun to think that many of Burpee’s “new” varieties have now become heirlooms — like their Fordhook Giant Chard, introduced in 1934 & now sold by both Burpee and by Seed Saver’s Exchange.

Seed Saver’s Exchange in Iowa is also an excellent organization with a great seed catalog! Heirloom seeds from around the world. They grow out most of what is in the catalog and if you become a member you have access to seed savers and their treasures from around the globe. Very cool! [recommended by Gwyn]

– Barbara Mc