The Lazy Farmer


The Sky's the Limit: Vertical Gardening

What’s a lazy farmer to do when she’s already weeding as much garden as she cares to tend?  Why go up, of course!  Much like urban housing, gardening has been reaching skywards for a while now.  There are as many ways to garden vertically as there are gardeners.  Let’s talk about a few approaches with specific vegetables. 

 Blog13   bean teepees

Standing Tall

One method of vertical gardening is to intercrop short and tall crops in the same garden bed.  You can extend the season by growing cooler season vegetables under taller summer crops to benefit from their shade.  Planting early season crops in hills with wider spacing allows for bunching later season crops in between the hills.  The early crop is harvested before the later crop needs more room in the bed.  You might also plant fall crops a month early by placing them between tall summer crops which provide the shade to keep the ground cooler.  Many flowers will grow taller than usual in search of sunshine if you plant them amongst tall crops like corn.  Some examples of this type of planting include:

  • Turnips planted in bunches followed by hills of sweet corn a month later
  • Pole beans grown on bamboo tee-pees with lettuce under them in summer for deep shade
  • Zinnias growing in the corn patch grow as tall as the corn
  • In rows of caged tomatoes, plant winter radishes or Napa cabbage seedlings anywhere you pull a past-production tomato plant. Make durable, sturdy cages from concrete reinforcement wire.
  • Okra creates a leafy canopy for Swiss chard or spinach

 Blog13   tomato cages

Double Duty

If your garden is fenced you’ve got a built in vertical garden.  When planting garden boundaries pay attention to the sun’s track during the growing season.  You can use the extra sun to boost crop production and sun-blockage to create cooler conditions down below.  Our garden fencing is full a great part of the year.  Seasonally it is used for:

  • Snap peas in the spring, positioned so as not to create shade until late afternoon
  • Italian zucchini positioned on one of the fences where no shade is created by the plants
  • Runner beans create a dappled shade across beds that need to be kept cool
  • Small melons grow in sections of fence that only give early morning shade to the beds
  • Cucumbers grow readily up fences while rampantly covering the bed as well

 Blog13   fenced peas

Garden Art?

Create visual interest in your garden by devising unusual trellises or creating tall towers of crops.  We’ve tried these ways of creating our own unique “garden art”.  Try different vegetables on each trellis you create to make your garden stand out.  Vegetables with pretty flowers look particularly nice waving upwards.

  • Tee-pees made from bamboo poles tied at the top host runner beans and pole beans
  • Old wagons or wheelbarrows filled with dirt create higher beds for winter squash to tumble from – make sure to punch some drainage holes in the bottom
  • Tall woven metal fences two-abreast provide a tight upright corridor for tomato plants
  • Sections of wooden lattice slanted onto stakes allow cucumbers to hang straight underneath
  • Old wooden ladders create a whimsical tall ramble for any climbing plant
  • Straw bale compost piles create lovely warm beds in which to grow early cantaloupe, the cascading vines creating a living green mound covering all that compost
  • Stacks of old tires filled with dirt make unique celery or potato beds
  • Cracked planters filled with herbs relive their past when placed in the garden

With a well-composted garden, consider using the space most effectively by growing up as well as out.  There are so many ways to grow vertically.  What will you try in your garden this year?

Lessons in Intercropping

Oops!  That’s not supposed to work that way! 

Gardening is a science, but it’s also an art.  We can control things like location, how we amend the soil, and which seeds we plant.  This is the science.  But the weather is in God’s hands.  Some things work some years, and then are complete flops the next.  Some techniques work for one person and cause catastrophe for others.  Herein lies the art.

 These are a couple of the mistakes we’ve made, and what we learned from them.

Blog9  Zinnas in the Corn

The Three Sisters

Planting corn, squash, and pole beans together in a single bed was practiced long ago by Native American tribes.  If they could do it, so could we, right? 

Wrong.  The Native Americans planted corn that remained in the field all season, drying on the stalk to be used for grinding flour or for parched corn.  We grew sweet corn, meant to eat in summer.  We wanted to harvest our corn 80 days after we planted it.  Squash vines are REALLY prickly when you try to walk through them to get at your corn.  Pumpkins need the full season to mature.  We also planted pole beans we wished to use fresh as shelly beans rather than dried beans.  Same problem with the prickly squash leaves.  And the bean harvest was definitely reduced.

If you want to try the Three Sisters we strongly recommend planting corn, beans, and winter squash that you want to fully ripen and dry in place for harvesting together just before frost.  How To Grow a Three Sisters Garden will guide you on your way: 

If you want to intercrop sweet corn we recommend planting hills of turnips in the spring at 3 foot intervals, and then planting 4-5 corn seeds in between each hill once all danger of frost is past.  The turnips won’t get too tall before the corn outgrows it.  And the turnips will be harvested before the corn begins to shade it seriously.  Trellis beans onto the garden fences and plant shorter things in front of them.  Zinnias and gladiola look lovely rising gracefully from the middle of your pumpkin patch.

White Clover Undercover

A great idea for gardens that grow one or two crops and then are turned under at the end of the season.  The idea is that you plant the clover under taller vegetables and it suppresses weeds.  Dwarf white clover (Trifolium repens) is considered ideal for use as a groundcover. It grows just 3 to 6 inches tall with a spreading, mat-forming growth habit. While it does spread, and is considered invasive in some areas, it is less invasive than many other clover varieties.  This should work under our caged tomatoes, right?

Wrong.  We plant in permanent, no-till beds.  The clover loved it, spreading aggressively underground, flowering and dropping seeds all over for next year.  It did a great job of eliminating other weeds.  But it took three years to fully eradicate the clover. 

We recommend planting lettuce around your tomato cages.  Lettuce can get bitter in the heat of summer unless shaded which your tomato plants will do nicely.  Closely planted leaf lettuce cuts down on weeds and provides a lovely cut-and-come-again salad bar right there under your cherry tomatoes.  Plant a few carrots in-between the tomato cages and you’ve got a full salad growing together.

Blog9  Tomatoes and Lettuce

Intensive intercropping takes some skill and experience.  There are lots of good books and internet sites to provide you with initial information.  But your garden is unique.  Developing skill and experience requires making some mistakes and learning from them.  With practice you’ll find the combinations that work for you. 

Storing the Harvest

squash

Row after row of jewel toned fruits and vegetables line the canning room shelves.   Bags of halved peppers, green beans, peas, and corn fill the freezer along with foraged berries from the wild part of our land.  Dried tomatoes, herbs, and shelled beans fill colorful jars on the kitchen counters.  Our sour cherries are frozen, canned, and dried along with apples and peaches from a neighboring farm.  Pesto and chutneys fill the shelves.  Flavored vinegars and oils wait to add zest to our meals.  Over 40 cured winter squash decorate my son’s music studio in our basement.  While boxes of cured sweet potatoes and potatoes are stacked in cool storage.  Our cold storage (a dedicated refrigerator) is overflowing with fall apples, winter radishes, turnips, cabbage, and rutabagas.  I am ceaselessly amazed by how much of our produce we are able to enjoy throughout the year. 

 peppers

When we moved to our few acres of heaven thirteen years ago, I didn’t know a dehydrator from a pressure cooker.  I’d never heard of blanching to stop enzyme activity.  I’d never successfully grown anything but tomatoes, a few bush beans, and a single row of corn.  I knew my grandmothers had gardened and canned, and I was close to aunts and cousins who still did so.  I was pretty sure I could figure it out with a little help from family. 

So I planted a garden – see Rule Breaking Gardening for that particular adventure!  I bought a deep pan for canning in a boiling water bath.  My husband surprised me that first Christmas with Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving.  And I purchased canning jars, lids, and rings.  I started with tomatoes because that is, after all, why we all really garden. Then I expanded out into fruit pie fillings and jams.  Did you know that it is nearly impossible to get jam to “a full rolling boil” on a glass-topped electric range?  I finally learned why when the appliance repair man explained that these types of burners sense when the pan is hot and cycle off periodically.  Lots of ruined jam paved the way to that discovery!

 herbs

Things got a little more expensive, and we became commensurately more committed to the process with the purchase of an outdoor gas camp stove.  My sweet husband researched carefully and found a double burner stove used by beer brewers that could bear the weight of my canning pot.  This gave me the added benefit of taking the heat outside instead of steaming up my kitchen.  Then we were given a brand new pressure canner.  We’d met some people who had over prepared for Y2K and found themselves with several still-in-the-box pressure canners in their basement.  Now I could explore canning low acid vegetables, soups, and meats.  If you find the thought of canning daunting, look at the Home Canning Guide for step-by-step instructions.

 Along the way I experimented with both canning and freezing different vegetables to determine which method we liked best for each food.  It often came down to how I used the specific crop after putting it up.  At one point I gave up on freezing green beans even though we thought they tasted better.  Turns out you need to blanch them for a couple of minutes in boiling water, quickly submerge them in ice cold water, and then dry them quickly prior to freezing them.  We no longer can many green beans but our freezer is stocked with them.  The variety matters as well.  We now use Cantare bush green beans exclusively for our frozen bean harvest.

 herbs

We also discovered, by trial and error, how much we needed of each food and which one we’d really use throughout the year.  My first year growing turnips I got carried away only to learn that there really is a limit to how many turnips we care to eat.  Then I stumbled on winter radishes which were a game changer.  I still grow and store turnips, especially since we learned that Boule D’or turnips maintain a milder taste throughout their growth.  But I preserve a much larger harvest of winter radishes.  They are more colorful, cook up sweeter, and are tasty raw dipped in lemony hummus.  We currently grow two Indian varieties:  Pusa Jamuni with purple flesh, and Pusa Gulabi which are bright fuchsia colored.  The Chinese Red Meat (also called Watermelon) radish and Shawo Fruit radish with its vibrant green flesh are both from China.  We serve their colorful slices mixed together in crystal bowls to the amazement of our guests.  To eat these radishes hot we cube them, toss them in olive oil and kosher salt, and roast them until just softened.  This pretty green, pink, and red dish is sweet on the palate and lovely on the plate.

 winter radishes

Tantalizing Tomatoes are another matter.  I’ve yet to grow more than I could use!  Once all the fresh eating is done, my husband’s addiction is my homemade Tomato Basil Soup.  Once unfortunate year I only canned 30 quarts for the three of us which were long gone by February.  Looking into my husband’s sad eyes, I opened all my remaining jars of canned tomatoes and quickly turned them into the soup, which I then re-canned.  Lesson learned!  Forty jars of Tomato Basil soup is our absolute minimum to make it through the winter and spring.

With so many greens (Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, and cabbage) growing into the winter and coming back early spring, I’ve stopped trying to freeze greens.  During the month or two that I can’t pick them from my garden I simply buy them from the store or meet the need with sprouts and microgreens grown indoors.

What are your favorite foods to can?  Which do you like better frozen?  What uses have you found for dehydrated vegetables?  Now is the time to start planning what you’ll grow and store next year. 

Jeweled Jars: The Usual and Unusual Suspects

jeweled jams 

What unique foods do you “put up” at the end of the growing season?  Which garden jewels merit jar space on your pantry shelves?  Read on to learn about some of our favorites.

I love flowers, especially the edible ones!  And they make their way into my preserving recipes.  Lavender pairs delightfully with many fruits so I put up many jars of Peach Lavender and Cherry Lavender jam.  Vibrantly colored jellies are also made from edible flowers.  BouquetBanquet has recipes for Peppery Nasturtium Jelly, Dandelion Jelly (tastes like honey!), and Lavender Jelly which is excellent as a meat glaze.  Use either of the last two recipes as a base from which to whip up some sweet flower jellies such as Hibiscus and Red Clover, Rose Petal, or Rose of Sharon with Honeysuckle.  Try these on pound cake, ice cream, or in crepes with ricotta cheese.

Pickles, chutneys, and salsas are important to us as we enjoy charcuterie and cheese boards.  Over the years we’ve narrowed cucumber pickles down to Amish Garlic Sweet Dill (which covers just about all the traditional flavors in one pickle) and Pepper Pickles made with jalapeno peppers.  We also make a generous amount of bright red Cinnamon Pickles with fermented cucumbers and lots of cinnamon oil.  My fermenting crocks permanently smell of cinnamon from making so many of these.  Dilly Beans are a favorite in the middle of winter.  We use a broad wax bean called Gold of Bacau which stays firm yet tender through the canning process.  Dilled cucumber relish is a must for burgers.  Hot Salsa and sweeter Peach/Tomato/Pear Salsa bring summer back to life after the tomato season is over.  Cherry Chutney sparkles with pork entrees and on the cheese board.

savory tomatoes

Tomatoes crown the canning season (as well as the dehydrating we do).  We preserve them into:

  • Tomato Basil Soup
  • Bruschetta
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Various salsas
  • Spicy Tomato Jam

Sweet Onion Jam isn’t made with tomatoes but it pairs quite deliciously with cheese.  Our dehydrated tomatoes and tomato powder fill glass jars just waiting for moisture to reinvigorate them as paste, sauce, or in stews for a burst of sweet tomato flavor during winter.

 soup and pickles

Lots of fruits get canned in our house as we have a couple of sour cherry bushes, while Japanese Wineberries and wild blackberries grow along our woods edge.  A neighboring farmer is the peach and apple expert – many bushels of his produce ends up in our pantry.  Our own concord grapes and pears round out our local fruit.  In addition to jams and jellies, they end up in jars as juice, fruit butter or sauce, pie filling, shortcake topping, and sliced fruit.  Lots of them end up dehydrated or frozen as well.

 favorite fruits

With the help of a pressure canner, homemade stews and soups line the shelves ready for spur of the moment meals.  Being able to make and can our own bone broth from the animals we raise greatly increases the depth of flavor in these preserved foods as well as what we make from scratch during the year.  While we primarily freeze green beans, we always can a case of late purple bush beans because it tenderizes them.  An overabundance of winter squash cans up nicely when there are too many to winter store before we’d use them.

These are the jeweled jars that line our shelves:  orange, red, green, yellow, purple, beige, pink, and brown.  Some, like the peaches, pears, and apples, taste similar from year to year because we use the same varieties and the same recipes.  Others, anything made with tomatoes, are a bit like making craft wine.  The varieties ripening at any point in time can vary dramatically, changing the flavor and color of each batch of preserved food.  And every year there’s something new to try.  What will you put up this year?

Succession Planting for Lazy Chicken Feed

You plant your bush bean seeds and wait patiently until little green sprouts emerge from the ground.  Your plants grow, leaves unfurl, and flowers appear.  One morning you spy tiny beans hanging from the plants.  The beans grow longer.  You finally begin to harvest them for dinner.

Blog20  green bean harvest

The next morning you find a few holes in the leaves.  Small yellow larvae show up on the plants.  They multiply.  Now many of the beans have holes in them.  Your harvest seems ruined.  But it depends what you think you are growing, now doesn’t it?  So when are bean beetle larvae a good thing?  When you are growing your own chicken food!

 Blog20  bean beetle larvae

For years we fought against bean beetles.  We handpicked them, we used organic sprays, and we rotated the plants.  Nothing worked well.  If you pick before they reach full maturity, a good bush bean harvest should continue for many weeks.  New flowers continue to form when you pick frequently.  Yet we kept losing our crop to the bean beetles after only a few harvests.

Wait a minute!  We also raise chickens.  Chickens eat bugs and larvae.  We were getting good at growing bugs.  Why were we fighting them so hard?  Sometimes you just need to look at your problems from another angle.  So now we grow beans, and we grow bugs.  Here’s how it works.

 Blog20  more bean beetles

Starting at the beginning of the growing season, we plant a small patch of bush beans every three weeks in a different location.  The plants grow, we harvest beans, and the bugs come.  We do nothing.  As soon as the bugs move from the leaves to the beans themselves, we stop harvesting.  We pull the plants and drop them off in the chicken yard compost pile.  The chickens go wild eating their home-delivered dinner of bugs and larvae.  They eat some of the leaves and vines.  They compost the rest.  We later move the compost back into the garden.

 Blog20  chicken dinner

By now, we’re picking beans from the next planting.  Plant, pick, pull, and deliver dinner to the chickens.  Repeat.  How easy is that?!

 Blog20  happy chickens

Growing beans, and bugs, this way takes planning.  Our annual garden plan incorporates small planting areas that come available for beans every three weeks throughout the season.  We start a few weeks before the last frost planting Royal Purple Pod Bush Beans which tolerant cold weather more reliably.  We move on to Dragon Tongue and Cantare Bush Beans for our main summer crops.  Then back to the purple bush beans for fall harvests.  Most years we harvest beans and bugs from mid-May through early November.  That’s almost six months of free chicken food coming out of our zone 6b garden.

 Blog20  dragon tongue beans

We’re happy because it means less work.  The chickens are happy because it means more food.  So what about you?  Are you ready to grow bugs in your garden?  Next time you find yourself fighting nature in your vegetable garden, shift your perspective and see if a solution doesn’t present itself.

Photos by (top to bottom) Sonja Langford on Unsplash, Sheryl Campbell, Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

Edible Flowers Revisited

Many flowers of summer have stopped blooming and you’re wondering how to keep edible flowers on your plate.  Take heart!  There’s a whole season of delicious blooms still ahead. 

 Blog19  Stuffed Daylilies

Many of your herbs will still be in flower for another month or so, as will squash, okra, nasturtium, and runner beans.  If you planted reblooming varieties then a whole new flush of daylily flowers are on their way as well.  The first three flowers below will bloom throughout late summer and early fall giving you ample opportunities to invent new dishes!  Reblooming daylilies will vary in bloom time from August-September.  Gladiolas bloom dependent on when you planted the bulbs – I try to stagger them so as to get blooms summer through fall.

Begonias-tuberous ONLY  Begonia x tuberhybrida

The petals have a lemony, citrus taste and a crisp texture.  We put them in salads, dip them in yogurt or citrus sauce, and chop them up in fruit salads.  CAUTION:  they contain oxalic acid so eat in moderation, and any varieties other than Tuberous Begonias are unsafe to eat. 

Chrysanthemums  Dendranthema x grandiflorum

These have a mild to strong, bitter taste so test yours first before using.  We have tossed them in salads and sprinkled them on soups.   Cautions: Pyrethrum, a plant based insecticide, is made from the dried flowers of Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium or Chrysanthemum coccineum so avoid those.

Dahlia Dahlia spp.

The sharp, spicy tang of dahlia petals enhances salads and sandwiches, while the substantial whole flowers can be used to float on beverages and to top cakes.

 Blog19  Daylily Quiche

Day Lilies  Hemerocallis fulva

The buds and flowers of day lilies vary in taste from sweetly floral, to beany, to slightly metallic depending on variety.  Test yours out but do find some to use - these are one of our favorite edible flowers for their taste, beauty and versatility.  Make them into a salad, stuff them with soft cheeses or ice cream, or chop them for salads.  The buds taste somewhat like a green bean can are wonderful sautéed or baked.  CAUTION:  Only day lilies are edible.

Gladiolus  Gladiolus spp.

We like their mild, lettuce-like taste and texture and use them as a salad base, or stuff them with soft cheeses or sorbet.  They make a delightful presentation.

 Blog19  plated reblooming edibles

Recipes for Late Summer and Autumn

Sage Tempura

• 6-8 inch lengths of sage (leaves and flowers on stem)
• Oil or lard

Make your favorite tempura batter, heat oil (peanut or palm) or lard in a deep fryer or deep pan, dip the sage stems in the batter and deep fry them in the oil.  Drain on paper towels and serve.  Detailed directions can be found in the Japanese Herb Tempura Recipe.

Anise Hyssop Beef Strips

• 1 pound flank steak, cut into strips across the grain
• 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup anise hyssop flowers and leaves, chopped
• 3 Tablespoons scallions, chopped
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup chicken broth
• 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons cornstarch in 2 tsp. water
• More anise hyssop flowers for garnish

Combine the anise hyssop, soy sauce, brown sugar, and sherry.  Pour over the steak strips and marinate several hours.  Remove the meat from the sauce and reserve the remaining marinade.  In a large skillet, heat the oil and stir-fry the meat quickly over medium-high heat until brown.  Add the scallions, reserved marinade, and chicken broth and heat through.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture until the sauce thickens.  Serve over jasmine rice.  Garnish with anise hyssop flowers.

Daylily Frittata

• 6 fresh daylily blossoms
• 6 eggs
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 6 fresh sweet basil leaves, chiffonade
• 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
• Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk the eggs with the cream, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the herbs.  Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat, then pour the egg mixture into the pan.  Gently press the daylily blossoms into the eggs creating a pleasing pattern.  Cook on medium until the egg just starts to set on the sides and bottom.  Put the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes, cut into wedges and serve.

Time to Plant the Winter Garden

Summer is moving past its peak and the summer garden is winding down.  The corn is harvested, late beans are coming in, and the last of the melons are waiting to be picked.  Many people are tired of planting, weeding, and harvesting by now and are ready to think of quitting the garden soon for the winter.  But not you!  That’s because you enjoy cool season vegetables and want to feed your family from your land for more months of the year.  You’ve kept your garden covered with plants, straw, or grass clippings eliminating much of your weeding.  And you’ve planned your garden spaces to allow for cold hardy vegetables to go in as soon as summer ones quit producing.  How you prepare for winter gardening is important, and which seeds you plant matters as well.  Freshen up beds with well-aged compost before putting in the cool season vegetables so that they have nutrients to draw from.

 Blog18  winter cabbages and lettuce

There are three ways of approaching cold season planting:  direct seeding, starting your own seedlings, or purchasing transplants.  The problem with buying your seedlings is that your choices are very limited.  So we’re going to limit today’s conversation to seeding directly in the soil and starting your own seedlings.  With both approaches you’ll be able to select exactly which varieties you want to grow.

 Blog18  seedlings

Certain vegetables simply grow better when sown directly where you want them rather than transplanting them.  Many greens and anything that matures in the soil fit this category.  So plan late summer/early fall spaces for winter radishes, beets, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, lettuce, kale, spinach, mache, and tatsoi.  Hopefully you’ve set up a lighted growing area in your home by now and are ready to start your seeds indoors.  A sunny window can work as well, and it’s warm enough outside that you can start seed trays outside if you follow a few precautions.  You don’t want the temperature to drop below 60 so bring the trays in if the nighttime temps will be lower than that.  Seed starting trays are usually covered with transparent covers to retain moisture, but they’ll also bring the heat up drastically if left in bright sunshine.  So keep your outdoor starter trays in a lightly shaded, yet warm area.  I start mine on a large light table that my husband built in an unused alcove of our house.

 Blog18  August planting

You’ll want to start all cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower in seed trays.  These are large vegetables and the seedlings take up much more room than some of the root crops or smaller greens.  I like to wait to dedicate space to the winter crops until I must put them in the ground because this allows me more successions of the summer crops before cool weather.  Regardless, these larger vegetables do need to be transplanted by mid-August at the latest in our zone 6b garden or they may not come to maturity before an early killing frost.

 The varieties that work well for us to take harvest out into fall and winter are:

  • Arcadia broccoli which can take temperatures down to 25
  • Monflor broccoli is a 1-cut type that handles cold well
  • Purple of Sicily, and Song Cauliflower – harvest the heads before 30 degree weather
  • Rubicon Napa cabbage must be harvested before it is 25 degrees out
  • Deadon, Autumn Jewel, Brunswick, and Ruby Perfection cabbage can be harvested down to 19 degrees if it is only that cold for a few hours at a time. Very small heads survived multiple nights down to 15 degrees this past winter.
  • Turnips, rutabaga, winter radishes, and beets need to be harvested before a hard freeze of 20-24 degrees regardless of variety.
  • Beas kohlrabi can take temperatures down to 15 degrees if only for a short time
  • Rainbow Swiss Chard easily takes sustained temperatures down to 15 degrees
  • Red, and White, Russian Kale survive down to 10 degrees in our garden, as does any variety of spinach

 Blog18  kale

Lettuces at maturity die around 25 degrees, but seedlings under 6 inches do well down to 10-15 degrees.  The cold hardy varieties we plant for winter are Rouge Grenobloise, Winter Density, Marvel of Four Seasons, Landis Winter, Merlot, and Black-Seeded Simpson.  We plant lettuce directly in place late August through mid-September to be harvested before Christmas.  In October we start planting lettuce that we hope will overwinter at a small size to grow quickly in March.  When the winter is warmer than usual, we harvest them in January instead.  This past year we began winter-sowing lettuces in late-December as well for an early spring harvest.  The seeds just sit there until weather conditions warm the soil to 35 degrees for them to germinate.

 Blog18  merlot lettuce

If you grow your own onions and garlic these are excellent choices for the winter garden.  We start our onions inside from seed and plant them out in early October with straw packed tightly round the seedlings.  We’ve overwintered Walla Walla, Candy, and Expression onions this way for an extra early summer harvest of large bulbs.  Garlic bulbs should be planted around the end of October or early November in our zone.  We plant them so the tips of the bulbs are 3 inches below the soil then cover them with 6 inches of fluffed straw.  When the spring temperatures warm, the garlic plants push their way through the straw to grow tall and well supported.

 If you haven’t planned for a winter garden this year it’s not too late.  Order some cold hardy varieties of your favorite cool season vegetables.  Whenever you pull a summer crop, replace it with seeds or seedlings for fall and winter plants.  Even if you aren’t set up to start your own seedlings, you can experiment with whatever seedlings you can find at nurseries this fall.  Just remember to surround your growing seedlings with straw as the weather turns colder.  This will keep the soil at their roots warmer and help them survive colder temperatures than you’d thought possible.

 Let me know how your fall and winter garden grows!







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