Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Winter Garden? Everyone Should Have One

Last years Cheddar Cauliflower 
Ok. I know your tired. Fall and winter you are looking forward to a little down time and book time, holidays, etc. But if you happen to think about it you can get a fall garden started. It is just a little bit closer to being more prepared and self sufficient. I have chosen to put in some basics for the winter. Cauliflower, three different varieties of broccoli, beets, carrots, lettuce, and maybe some spinach. Although I think I am a little late for the spinach I will try it in my cold frame.

Here in the Northwest cool weather crops are the only thing that will grow with a little protection. I don't want anyone to think I am some expert because just about everything I do is an experiment but I have had some pretty good results. Last year I grew broccoli, brussel sprouts, and a variety of cauliflower called Cheddar that was to die for. I also grew a variety called snow crown with terrible results. I didn't know you had to "blanch" cauliflower or that there are self blanching varieties. I didn't even know what blanching was but I do know it doesn't mean using hot water.  Apparently when cauliflower gets to be about baseball size you are suppose to wrap the leaves around it and hold it in place with something like string. This protects it from the sun and helps it turn white. Turning white was not a problem for me. Knowing when to harvest was. Harvest when the heads are about 6 inches in diameter otherwise they get a ricey look and are past their prime. Since I lost my cauliflower to hard frost I think perhaps this is a better reason to blanch.

This year I put in some simple raised beds to make the job a little easier and to battle the constant crappy soil. I bought three pieces of 2 x8 x8 foot Douglas fir and cut one in half for the ends so the bed would be 4 ft. by 8ft. I didn't want to use treated lumber and cedar was just too darned expensive. So following the lead of my friend Cindy, I applied boiled Linseed oil to all surfaces and let it dry then had the man screw it
Beets in the foreground carrots in the back
together for me with 2x2's in the corners. I filled, fertilized, and planted beets and carrots in it and did it in August. A little late for beets so I chose a fast maturing variety called Merlin (55 days) and another that I had in my seed file called Chioggia (65 days). Beets and carrots were direct sown into the first raised bed about mid August. Although I had doubts about the beets due to the late planting they are doing great. I planted thick enough that we have had two meals of beet greens. Not bad for a four foot square planting. During August in spite of my attention to watering, my beets would wilt slightly during mid day. Too much sun. So I placed a piece of 4 x 8 lattice on the west side of the raised bed held in place with three metal fence posts and plastic ties to hold the lattice to the post. Worked perfectly. No more wilting. My carrots need thinning but look great. The beets have formed little one inch beets already. The only thing I would do differently is not use so much compost. I can see the beet roots are going to be somewhat hairy.

 Around here you need to plant your fall and winter gardens in late July and August to allow for adequate growth prior to the onset of fall. The difficulty comes with the fact that you are planting cool weather crops and it is still hot at that time of year. So it is very important to water, water, water. If you let broccoli and cauliflower dry out even once it will bolt instead of growing. Because I was building the rest of the raised beds at the time I needed to be planting them I opted to start the Cole plants in pots on my patio. My patio gets morning sun until about 1pm then it is in shade the rest of the day. A perfect place to start cooler weather plants. I also put the pots in flat pans so that the pots could sit in a 1/2 inch of water lessening the possibility of drying out when I forgot to water. When transplanting be very careful to not disturb the roots as this will cause a set back in growth.

I went ahead and put in two more raised beds that were 4x12. These I am using for the Cole crop and because I grew the plants in pots I had a ready made garden as soon as I was able to fill the bed with soil. This time I used a three way mix from the local soil company.

One of the things I don't like about Cole crops is the green caterpillars and aphids. The caterpillars are the larvae of the white cabbage moth or butterfly.
You will see them flitting around your garden looking for a spot to lay their eggs on your lovely broccoli. Brussel sprouts seem plagued with a grey aphid. Both are a real pain. The caterpillars can be controlled with a couple doses of BT but not only do I not relish the thought of eating that stuff no matter how harmless I also don't like paying for it. So I came up with this idea. As soon as I plant the broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts I cover them with nylon netting that I purchased at the fabric store last year. Not to be confused with tulle. It's cheaper than row covers or tulle and does the job. (Tulle also blocks more light than the nylon netting.)  Not one greenie meanie. Last year when it got cold enough that the butterflies where no more I took the cover off. Unfortunately the grey aphid attacked the brussel sprouts when I did so this year I am leaving the cover on all winter. According to my companion planting book Cole crops do well with onions so I planted some bunching onion from seed between the broccoli and cauliflower in the hopes of getting green scallions for the winter.  They are just starting to come up and are about 1-2 inches tall. Nice thing about planting in the fall is everything seems to germinate faster and better. The bad thing about my set up is the onions skinny little spikes want to grow up through the netting because it is just gently laying on top of the Cole crop. So I placed some hoops to hold the netting up off the soil. I sure don't want those onions to grow through that and have to either cut them out or rip them off. In general I am pretty happy with the job I have done so far. I will plant the cold frame with lettuce and spinach and then relax a little and just do some clean up and weeding and putting the rest of the garden to bed for the winter. The chickens and ducks will be invited in to the garden to clean out any lingering pests. Then I can get started cleaning and winterizing the coop. Guess I wont be relaxing after all. Hmmmmm.

Sunday the oldest came home with her boyfriend to partake in a small family tradition. We celebrate the first day of fall with a family dinner. We had a pork roast on the rotisserie and a Caprese salad, acorn squash baked with butter, brown sugar and a slice of bacon, Zucchini and potato fries then topped it all off with home made pumpkin pie. We even had a little goat milk ice cream. All out of our garden and home made. (The goat milk was from a local farmer) Of course I forgot to take a picture so here is a picture of the table instead. Both of our girls start school the next day. First day at junior college for the youngest and first day as a junior at the University for the oldest. There are many things to celebrate.


Izzy said...

I'm going to hunt our local fabric store for netting. I read this in one of your posts from last year I think? You just reminded me to get at it again. The table looks great, and I'm sure you had a wonderful time having the kids home before they were off to school again this year. Best wishes!

queen of string said...

I am battling those yucky grey aphids on my sprouts too! Feeling a little better to know it's not just me.

sista said...

Definitely try the nylon covers. I don't have any yet.

Abbi said...

Thanks for the netting idea! My least favorite part of putting up food for the winter is picking worms off of broccoli. I would be very,very happy to avoid that!

becky3086 said...

Very nicely done. I have not had any problems with anything getting my cole crops especially once it gets cold. Love your raised beds, very nice!

sista said...

Thanks Abbi. It is really hard to see all of those green worms too. I find that if I don' cut all the florets into smaller pieces you will still have one or two of them that hide deep inside. Yuk!

Don't know where you life Becky but here you have to start the Cole crops while it is still warm (august) in order to harvest during fall and winter. That means butterflies layer those darn eggs. Thanks for commenting.

Leigh said...

Excellent idea about the netting. I've seen the fancy, expensive row coverings in the garden catalog, but this makes so much more sense because it's inexpensive and can be locally purchased.

You already know what I think about planting those cool weather crops in July. ;)