year round gardening
Getting a head start on the vegetable garden can be tricky if you wait until January because of frozen ground. It seems this time of year if the ground is not frozen it is wet. Neither condition is conducive to tilling, seeding or planting. There are some ways to get around these conditions so you can get your seeds and plants in the ground in plenty of time to get an early spring harvest.
Start Your Vegetable Garden In August
One way is to plant your garden in August. The ground is usually workable then, the seeds will germinate easily and then all you have to do is cover the young seedlings with a cold frame and wait. Starting seeds in August will allow you to harvest vegetables throughout the winter months. Good choices are brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach, kale, lettuce and carrots. Brussels sprouts and kale can over winter without a cold frame and often taste better if they are not picked until after they have been frosted upon.
Fall Preparation For Early Spring Planting
If you don’t want to mess with winter gardening but do want to get a head start on your vegetable garden early in the year when conditions may not be favorable for working the ground, now would be the time to till up empty spots in your garden so the ground will be ready when you are. You can also pre-dig holes. For example, if you know you are going to plant potatoes in December, dig the trenches now. Cover the soil you dug with black plastic to help it retain heat. Go ahead and put the grass clippings, straw and compost in the bottom of the hole. When the time comes to plant those potatoes all you will need to do is lay them in the hole, cover them with more grass clippings, straw, compost and soil. Dig holes for any other early spring plants you intend to grow such as cabbages and if you grow lettuce or other greens in rows, go ahead and draw those rows in the dirt.
Start Your Garden As Early As January
The time is almost here for gardeners in the Midwest to start planting their early spring vegetables. The 16th of January is the big day. Crops such as lettuce or other leafy vegetables can be direct sown. Cabbages can be planted under the protection of cold frames. If the weather is nice and the ground is not wet or frozen weeds that did not get removed in the fall can be pulled. These seeds and young plants will need the extra protection of a cold frame which can be made of wood and glass or plastic. In larger cold frames flats of hardy annuals such as pansies can be started so they will be ready to go into the ground once the worst of the winter weather is over.
If you did not get the ground worked in the fall or want to provide your vegetables with a little extra heat, try laying down some black plastic over the soil for a week or so ahead of time. Remove the plastic when you are ready to plant your crops and store it for use the following year. With a little pre-planning you can have a garden that produces abundant crops of fresh vegetables all year round without the additional expense of heating it, even in a cold climate.
January is a good time to prep your vegetable garden, plant cool season crops and get your seed starting supplies ready for the upcoming season. For those who were unable to get into their garden in January due to snow and cold weather, there is still time in February and even March to get a head start on the gardening season.
Spring is just around the corner. Seed catalogs are arriving almost daily in the mail. It’s time once again to sit inside where it is warm and decide what vegetables to grow from seed this coming spring. For gardeners who plan to get an early start on the season, now is the time to place those orders.
Even gardeners with a short growing season can begin planting some crops outside in mid-January as long as the ground is workable. Cabbages as well as other leafy greens can be direct seeded around the 16th of January.
Seed potatoes that did not get planted in November or December can be planted now. With winter sown potatoes, remember to plant them eight inches deep and use grass mulch both under the seed potato as well as on top of the seed potato. Cover the mulch with about an inch of soil and by mid-summer you will be digging potatoes.
Some gardeners prefer to place a small cold frame or a frost cover over anything they plant early in the season. Although it is not necessary, using a cold frame will bring a faster harvest because of the heat buildup inside the cold frame. It will also protect your seeds from being washed away by harsh rains.
Get A Head Start On Weeds
January is a good time to start cultivating and weeding the vegetable garden as long as the ground is not wet or frozen. Weeds that were not removed last fall may still have seeds on them so it is a good idea to cover the seed head with a bag so the remaining seeds do not fall on the ground and germinate. A weed seed can lie dormant for up to seven years before germinating.
This is also a good time to look at expanding your existing vegetable garden and adding a drip irrigation system. Since there is not much to do in the yard or garden during this time of the year, cultivating an additional plot or adding an irrigation system can take priority.
Begin Preparations For Sowing Seeds Indoors
Once the size of the garden plot has been decided you will have a better idea of how many plants to start from seed. January is a good time to gather small pots, flats and row markers. Flats and pots that were saved from last year will need to be cleaned and sterilized. Hydrogen peroxide is a good choice for a sterilizer because, unlike bleach, if any residue remains it will not harm your seedlings.
Once your flats, pots and markers are clean and ready to go you can prepare your soil. A good homemade seed starting mix consists of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. If you prefer not to mix your own soil, there are many good seed starting mixes on the market. Avoid top soil because it is too compacted and the seeds will struggle to survive.
By the end of January, you should have a head start on the upcoming spring sowing season. This early preparation will help you stay on schedule as the sowing season becomes more hectic. Cool weather leafy greens and cabbages will have a head start, weeds will be taken care of, new plots will be cultivated and best of all, the flats and containers will be ready to go when you get ready to start germinating this year’s vegetable seeds.
As anyone who owns a greenhouse – or coldframe – or tunnel house – knows, there is always a desire to have just a little more growing space. Some seeds need cold stratification to germinate, some seeds need heat to germinate. Some seeds can take two to three years to germinate – and the list goes on. Having different growing houses setup to accomadate the different propagation needs or growing requirements the seeds or plants you are working with need is ideal – however not everyone has this much space, time or money to invest.
As a hobby grower, I have found I simply do not have adequate space – even with four greenhouses and a tunnel house (for winter vegetables). In years past, the extra seeds that I could not sow were simply stored – and eventually I ended up giving them to someone else because I knew I simply could not keep them forever.
This year, I have added two small Culti-Caves and a small walk-in greenhouse to the mix. The Culti-Caves and one of the small walk-in greenhouses are being used for winter sowing. This is an ideal way to sow perennial seeds in soil blocks or flats, protect them from the elements and give me a semi-warm, dry place to work with them. After all, even winter-sown seeds need to be checked on to make sure the soil remains moist and to monitor germination.
One of the small greenhouses – as well as the two larger ones – are heated. Of course, my large one is still in the process of being repaired, so it is down this year, but it is used to pot plants up and grow larger plants instead of being used as a propagation house. By adding shelves I can increase the space I have to start seedlings or cuttings. The problem comes when those plants begin to grow – and this is where a larger (or extra) greenhouse comes in handy. In fact, to save on the heating bill, I heat as needed – in other words, I start the winter out with just one greenhouse heated. As plants germinate or root and more space is required, I add heat to the other greenhouses – one at a time. It is the only way to manage this many greenhouses on a budget.
To grow plants or start seeds that need even more heat than what you can provide – such as tropicals, tomatoes, peppers or other warm weather crops, consider adding those stand-alone greenhouses that look like a shelving unit with plastic over them. Place these inside of your heated greenhouse and you will find they will create a micro-climate that is warmer than the greenhouse itself. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature inside so you do not overheat the seeds or seedlings. The plastic covering will also cause moister to build up, so unzipping the plastic front from time to time to vent it may be necessary.
It’s already the middle of January and let me assure you, I have been busy planting seeds – indoors and out. I’ve done a bit of winter sowing – mostly perennials although a few half-hardy annuals snuck into the mix. This year I did my winter sowing in flats and put those outside in my new Culti-Caves. This made it super easy – and since there is just one seed per pot, transplanting is going to be a breeze.
Some of the seeds I’ve already planted outdoors include lupine, milkweed, coreopsis, statice, dianthus, coneflower, foxglove, delphinium, peony, Indian physic, campanula, Eryngium, viola and pansy. Indoors I planted seeds of tomatoes, Aristolochia, Eucalyptus, hibiscus, olive tree, banana, jojoba, kenaf, starfruit, American licorice, aloe, Telopea, Abutilon, Callistemon, Epipactis, Puya, Hypocalymma and kangaroo paw.
In the garden, it’s time to direct sow seeds of carrots, cabbage, celery, onion and parsley. Be sure to sow these inside of a coldframe for best results. Other seeds you can sow now include pansy, snapdragon, statice and dianthus. Again it is best to sow these inside of a coldframe or use the winter sowing technique.
For those of you seeking information on planting bulbs, corms and tubers, there are quite a few that you can plant in a heated greenhouse this month. Remember the earlier you plant them, the earlier they will flower. This is especially important if you sell your flowers. Iris, anemone, Triteleria and crocosmia are good choices for the cut flower market. Choose a variety of colors and remember to alternate your planting dates so they aren’t all in bloom at the same time.
Those of us who grow vegetables year-round are really no different than those who grow seasonally other than we choose to grow varieties that – like us – brave the cold weather. Figuring out which varieties do well for us in our individual climates does take some experimentation. We can learn what works well for others by reading articles, blogs and of course participating in online discussion groups – but even then, what works for one person may not work for another.
Here in Marion, Indiana I have found the round Black Spanish Radish does quite well over winter – even in the open ground without protection. I love the dark black color of the skin – and the spicy taste of the flesh. Often though I find it necessary to remove the skin from these radishes before I eat them – it really depends on how tough the skin is – and you can tell by looking.
The ideal time to sow seeds of the Black Spanish Winter Radish is August or September. These radish do get larger than the typical round radishes you see in the stores. In fact, they are close to the size of a small turnip when they are ready to harvest. I find one radish is more than enough to use in an entire salad – and when I eat them sliced, the radish often lasts three to four days.
Adding a dash of salt seems to lessen the spiciness of this particular radish – but let me tell you, if you grow it during the summer, the radish is downright hot. So hot, in fact, I refuse to grow this variety during the summer months. Another thing I have noticed about this variety is – just like other radish – they do self-seed. If you’ve grown them and had them go to seed, head out to your garden this winter and look around to see if some are coming up on their own.
Once you acquire seeds of this particular variety, it is a good idea to save some seeds from the plants you grew. This is not the easiest radish seed to find. Saving radish seed is very easy – but you must be aware if you let more than one variety go to seed at the same time you do risk cross-pollination.
To save radish seed simply allow the plant to flower, make sure pollination is occuring (you will know it is if you see bees visiting the flowers), allow the flowers to remain on the plant once they have faded and soon you will see long pods forming where the flowers once were. Inside of these pods, seeds are forming. Allow them to remain on the plant until they begin to turn brown.
At this point, cover the seed pods with pantyhose and secure the pantyhose at the bottom with a twist-tie – just be gentle and make sure you do not pinch the plant stem in the process.
Once the seeds – and stems – are completely brown, cut the stem below the pantyhose, turn the entire bunch upside down and shake gently. Many of the seed pods may have popped open already and this will help shake those seeds down into the pantyhose and away from the twist-tie. Now you can untie the pantyhose and gently remove the stems and pods.
Place the dried plant material on a paper plate or screen and break open the seed pods that are still closed. Once you have gathered all the seeds, lay them out on a paper plate or screen to dry for about a week. Be sure to label them so you don’t forget what they are. Once they are dry, put them into a container that already has a thin layer of dichotomous earth in the bottom of it (DE is a pest preventative) , place a label in or on the container and seal it. Store the container in a cool, dark, dry place.
That’s all there is to saving radish seed. Remember that seed saved from your own garden is adapted to your local growing environment and thus is better able to withstand the growing conditions in your area and local pests.
If you want to know more, be sure to pick up a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Seed Saving and Starting – and don’t forget you can download a free sample chapter for your Kindle device.
It has been an interesting winter here in Indiana – much milder than normal. As usual, I had my winter lettuce bed that survived very nicely – and then there were the winter flowers – some of which bloomed on time, as expected – and some which bloomed much earlier than I had anticipated. Here is a pictorial view of what is growing and blooming in my Indiana garden – USDA hardiness zone 6 – this month.
What’s happening in your garden this February? Are there flowers blooming? Are you starting your vegetable garden earlier than usual? Do feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments section! I would love to hear from you!
A number of warm-weather crops, such as tomatoes can be kept alive for several more months by erecting a cold frame over the top of them before the temperature falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Any stems, leaves or fruit that touch the plastic or row cover will sustain damage, so be aware of this. This is why tunnel houses often work best for taller crops.
Cabbage – as well as most other cool-weather crops such as spinach, turnips, radish and carrots do fine under cover throughout the winter. The cabbage above was planted last spring. The area where it was grown received shade all summer long. Now that the leaves have fallen, it is in full sun. The plan is to leave it in the ground until I am ready to use it to make saukerkraut or coleslaw. In fact, I have an entire bed of cabbage planted in this particular cold frame.
Here are a few other plants that take a light frost and bounce back for more. Mix and match these – and just think how much longer they would last if given some frost protection.
Extending the growing season is all about learning which plants tolerate frost and which ones need frost protection. Just like any aspect of gardening, it is trial and error. Keep notes. Learn what you did right and what you did wrong. In no time at all, you too can be gardening year-round, even if you live in a cold climate like I do!
Fall is the appropriate time for planting winter vegetables, however winter gardening and winter planting are two very different aspects. Winter gardening is all about growing fruits, flowers and vegetables during the coldest part of the year. Winter planting is all about putting those crops – rather they are bare root plants, seeds or tubers – into the ground from December through February.
The key to winter planting is pre-planning. Potatoes and bare root plants typically require that the hole be pre-dug before the ground freezes. Now that is not to say you cannot dig frozen ground with a pick-axe or use plastic to create enough heat to allow you to dig, but let’s face it, that requires a lot of extra effort – and frankly, when it is cold enough outside to see your breath who wants to be outside long enough to plant a garden. This is why pre-planning goes a long way towards your winter planting success.
When it comes to seeds, the only pre-planning required is to make sure your beds are free of weeds and cultivated so once spring arrives you aren’t trying to figure out which seedlings to remove and which ones to keep. After all, it never seems to fail that weeds grow faster than cultivated crops.
Here are a few crops that are ideal for winter planting – and best of all, if you let them set seed – once your beds are weed free – they will self-sow year-after-year.
potatoes – yes, even in United States Agricultural hardiness zone 5 – plant them from the end of November to the end of December.
Be sure to wait until the ground is completely frozen – which is usually after December 21. Otherwise the seeds may germinate too soon. If you live in an area with lots of bird or wildlife activity it may be necessary to cover the seeds with row cover or a cold frame to prevent them from becoming a food source for hungry critters.