Think Winter in Summer

By Bill Thorness

Raised Bed

Plan Now for Fresh Garden Veggies in Fall & Winter

Put fresh vegetables on your holiday dinner table this year by getting your winter vegetables started now. It may seem counterintuitive, but you need to think two seasons ahead to keep growing in your garden year round.

What can you grow for fall and winter? Among many choices, how about peas, beets and spinach for fall, and kale, broccoli and Asian greens for winter?

Two tricks to getting started: 1) plan where to plant, and 2) count backwards on the calendar.

How Can It Be Done?

You might look at your summer garden, bursting with warm-season crops, and wonder how you will fit in fall and winter veggies. Crop rotation will help. When those spring peas are waning, pull them out and reset the bed for a long-season winter crop like purple sprouting broccoli. As the rows of summer carrots are pulled, replace them with shade-covered lettuce starts that you’ve nursed to life in pots.

Use the calendar to figure out when these crops will be ready to eat. If you want to have salad at Thanksgiving, start counting the days backwards from November 28. Along with the “days to maturity” listed on the seed packet, add two other numbers: a “fall factor” and a harvest period. To the 45 days stated on the packet, add 10 days to account for the fact that plant growth slows in the fall. Add another week to account for the fact that you can snip away at lettuce for a while after it’s become harvestable. That will bring you up to 62 days.

Working backward, that means you’d want to plant your Thanksgiving salad on Sept. 28, or thereabouts. Garden planning is not an exact science.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

One more factor for fall and winter growing success: some plants may require protection. Beautiful heads of Forellenschluss lettuce in November must be shielded from the rains that often start early in that month, so plan to erect a cloche over it. Summer-started seeds might need a floating row cover laid on the bed to keep the soil moist enough in a dry spell – and of course you need to pay much closer attention to consistent watering in that situation.

Fall and winter growing does not need to be complicated or difficult. It does require a bit of planning, and a spring-like zeal for sprouting during the summer high season. But the rewards are plentiful, including more use of your land year-round, and fresh, healthful produce in the cool, dark months when we can all use a little cheering up from the garden.

Former Seattle Tilth editor Bill Thorness is the author of the new book Cool Season Gardener: Extend the Harvest, Plan Ahead, and Grow Vegetables Year Round.

Originally printed in Seattle Tilth’s newsletter, Way to Grow, June-July 2013.


Take the Next Step

Start Your Fall or Winter Garden 2Ready to give it a shot but need a bit more guidance in getting started? Take our hands-on classes and you’ll have delicious veggies to enjoy during the dark days of winter.

Upcoming classes:

Dive in Deeper

If you’re looking for a more extensive course on all things related to urban organic gardening, consider joining us for the fall session of our Comprehensive Organic Gardening course. This class is taught over 7 sessions from September 16-October 7 on Wednesdays, 7-9 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Put Information at Your Fingertips

Our Maritime Northwest Garden Guide provides a month-by-month look at what you should be thinking about and doing in your garden. Get your own copy today and be in the know!

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