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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.