Archive for the ‘Winter Gardening’ Category

Time to Start Planting Winter Veggies

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Ingredients for this salad were picked fresh from SWQV Garden on December 11, just a few minutes before this salad was composed: radicchio, brune d’hiver lettuce, little gem lettuce, sugarloaf chicory, Tuscan kale, turnip greens, curly endive, baby daikon (green lobo), Chinese beauty heart radish. Amazingly, they weren’t given any special protection like floating row covers or a cold frame: they are just naturally cold-hardy varieties.

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

Continuous-Harvest Veggies

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Pole beans can get 8 feet tall or higher. Obscure fact: pole beans always grow around their supports in a counter-clockwise direction as you can see here

When planning my garden, I distinguish continuous-harvest from single-harvest type crops. Since I am a self-proclaimed lazy gardener, I go for continuous harvest whenever I have any choice.

For example, you probably know that green beans come in two basic types (bush and pole), but did you know that bush beans were developed so that they can be mechanically harvested, which means the plants are short enough to fit underneath a harvester and all the beans ripen at the same time? In contrast, pole beans produce steadily from the time they start bearing around July 1 until the fall temperatures get too cold for them to set pod. Bush beans have to be succession planted if you want a continuous supply, but are good if you like to can or freeze your produce. Pole beans bear continually, so you can plan your meals by merely strolling through your plot anytime after they start producing in late June and picking what you need for a meal or two. Pole beans produce a lot in a very small space, so be sure to donate the excess to City Harvest.

Bush beans come all at once, which is great for canning or freezing for next winter


Indeterminates (top) get huge & produce until frost, determinates (bottom) stay short, bear all at once then quit.


Same thing with tomatoes: the short ones are determinate because they can be harvested mechanically, and produce all at once then stop growing, while the long vine-like ones that want to crawl all over your garden and need to be staked or caged or otherwise supported or restrained are indeterminate because they just keep on growing until the November frosts kill them off. I am a great fan of indeterminate tomatoes: the fabulous SunGold orange cherry tomato doesn’t quit producing until the first killing frost, long after all of the determinates have become a faded memory. Many of the famous heirlooms & Jerseys are indeterminate, as is Burpee’s tasty Brandy Boy, while paste-type and grocery store varieties tend to be determinate. Your seed packet or plant tab will tell you which type yours is.

Other continuous-harvest plants I like are chard, kale, collards — sometimes called “cut and come again” — plants which you harvest leaf by leaf. The only thing to keep in mind is to always leave enough leaves so the plant can support itself, otherwise you will shock it and slow or halt production. An additional bonus is that these plants are usually biennials, meaning they don’t produce seed until their second year — which means they have to survive through the whole winter, supplying you with fresh veggies during the coldest months plus a bonus spring crop right before they go to seed and die (most of our “winter” vegetables are these winter-hardy biennials). With the exception of chard, which loves the summer heat and is relatively unaffected by bugs, most of these veggies prefer cooler temperatures, so you might think about planting them in the fall when there are fewer bugs and the weather gets more comfortable for both plant and human.

Root crops (like beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, rutabaga), although admittedly not “single harvest”, can be held in the garden over the winter under a blanket of salt hay mulch because they never “ripen” but only get bigger. That way you can gather only as much as your need for a meal or two and essentially treat them as continuous harvest until you run out. It’s not a bad idea to sow an extra crop of these in August for over-wintering.

Root crops like beets (left) can be left in the ground until ready to use. Chard (right), a biennial, can be harvested for almost a year before it goes to seed and dies.


– Barb Mc

BONUS LINKS: Pauline forwarded this article from Science Daily which will make you feel extra-good about growing your own tomatoes. Turns out organic tomatoes have more anti-oxidants that conventionally grown ones.

Anne Seidman sent this NYTimes article about a tomato gene which makes tomatoes beautiful but tasteless — inadvertently bred into most tomatoes to give them a luscious red color. Good enough reason to plant heirlooms!

Gardening geeks will also be interested in Darwin’s The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants. First published in 1865, it remains unsurpassed in its observations on how plants climb. Thanks for locating this classic, Anne!

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.

A Garden Bedtime Story

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Once upon a time, a long time ago, so long ago it was before DDT was even banned and before the Southwark Queen Village Community Garden was even a gleam in Libby’s eye, there lived two very interesting gardeners. They weren’t a prince and princess, but they had kingdoms they ruled wisely – they did it organically. One was a stubborn old Connecticut  garden writer named  Ruth Stout, who believed that mulch was the cure to just about everything in the garden,  as well as a great preventer of aching backs and repetitive motion disorders in the gardener. The other was Robert Rodale, editor of Organic Gardening magazine, which published Stout’s columns.

“The good gardener should be devoting a lot of time to his garden in autumn,” Rodale wrote in The Basic Book of Organic Gardening (1971).  To which she added in her book The Ruth Stout  No-Work Garden Book (also 1971), “Except for strawberries, putting the garden to bed is no job at all for the year-around mulcher.”

Both of them were staunch believers – nay, proselytizers – of “putting your garden to bed.”

“If you don’t believe it, turn to Nature. What is she doing…?  Look where you will, you will find that Nature is scrupulous in blanketing the earth against the rigors of wintertime,” rhapsodized Rodale’s book.

Stout was more methodical: “Decide where your tomatoes will be next season and put corn stalks, cabbage roots, etc…..”  In other words, drop your pole beans, chop the stiff squash vines, lay down your pepper plants, use all the organic detritus you have.  “Now spread hay thickly over this refuse. When you plant your tomatoes your soil will be soft, moist and weedless,” she proclaimed. “With a thick mulch (weeds) never get a break.”  And in the spring? “You just pull aside the hay and plant.”

Rodale was less sanguine about weeds. “One year’s seeding makes seven years weeding,” he quoted the old adage. But he, too, recommended planning your next year’s garden as you start putting this year’s garden to bed. Beans will grow in very poor soil, but some other crops – rhubarb, melons, asparagus – benefit from the addition of compost or manure to the garden detritus.  Then lay down that hay!

Stout  recommends eight inches  for asparagus –loosely  so the stalks can wiggle up  through it next spring. Thickly for everything  else.  And the strawberry exception? She recommends a light covering at first, to discourage any new growth if the weather turns warm. Then when the temperature hits 20 or less, she recommends a full ten inches, adding:  “How would you like to lie in bed on cold winter nights without a cover?”

Oh, and their gardens lived happily ever after.

– Linda Witt