If you are not keeping your vegetable garden productive through the winter, you are missing out on one of the most rewarding times of the year for growing vegetables. There is an amazing selection of vegetables that can only be grown here during the cool season from October through May.
Another reason for putting in a fall-winter vegetable garden now is that the weather is so mild. Although there will be spells of cold weather this winter, there will be plenty of beautiful, mild days when you can get out and tend the garden.
It’s also worth noting that during the cool season, pest problems are reduced. We generally have fewer insect and disease problems, although cool-season annual weeds continue to grow through the winter. This underscores the importance of continuing to use mulches and promptly deal with weeds that show up.
Cole is the old term for cabbage (as in coleslaw — cabbage salad). The cole crops are cabbage and several other closely related vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and collards.
Broccoli and cauliflower may be unreliable if planted into the garden this late. Although the plants are very hardy, the broccoli and cauliflower heads we eat can be damaged by hard freezes. So planting transplants this late is questionable except in the very mildest-winter portions of the state. You may wait and plant transplants in January for spring production.
If you planted transplants of broccoli and cauliflower in August or September, you should be harvesting soon. Broccoli heads are harvested when the largest flower buds in the head are about the size of the head of a kitchen match. After the main head is harvested, side florets will be produced, and harvesting can continue for several weeks often doubling the production of each plant.
Cauliflower produces only one head, so after harvesting, remove the entire plant from your garden to make way for planting something else. For white heads, blanch the cauliflower by pulling the leaves up over the head when it is about the size of a silver dollar. Fasten the leaves with a clothes pin and check the head frequently. Harvest before the curds of the head starts to separate.
The other excellent vegetables that belong to the cole group, including kale, kohlrabi and collards, can all be planted from seed or transplants from August or September through February.
Garlic may be planted October through November by pressing individual cloves, big end down, into prepared soil. The tip of the garlic toe should be about one-quarter inch below the soil surface. Space the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart in rows spaced about 15 inches apart.
Garlic growth is slow, and the 15-inch space between rows can be used for intercropping. Intercropping is a term used when two or more different vegetables are grown in the same space at the same time. The garlic plants will not require the 15 inches between the rows for several months, and a quick-growing vegetable can be grown in that area and harvested before the garlic needs it.
Good choices for intercropping include radishes, leaf lettuce, beets and spinach. These vegetables are not large growers and will be harvested long before the garlic is ready next May. Intercropping may also be done with other vegetables that are initially spaced far apart, such as cabbage and cauliflower.
Other vegetables related to garlic — including green or bunching onions, shallots, bulbing onions and chives — can also be planted now from sets (small bulbs) or transplants.
Root crops are also excellent for the cool-season vegetable garden. Root crops should always be direct seeded into the garden where they will grow and never be transplanted. The tiny root the seed first sends out eventually develops into the edible vegetable. If this is damaged, as generally happens when you transplant seedlings, the result is a deformed root.
Plant two or three times as many seeds per foot or row as the number of plants you actually need to make sure you get a good stand. When the seeds sprout, it is very important to thin the seedlings to the proper spacing.
Learning to thin seedlings properly is a critical part of direct seeding. When the seedlings come up, it is hard for many gardeners to force themselves to remove the extras. It’s difficult to make yourself to kill many of the seedlings you just worked so hard to create. But the unneeded plants must be pinched off at the soil line to allow room for the remaining plants to grow and produce properly.
The following are some commonly planted root crops and the proper spacing: beet, 3-4 inches; radish, 2-3 inches; turnip, 3 inches; carrot, 2 inches; and rutabaga, 4 inches.
Vegetables that can be planted in November and through the winter include beet, cabbage, carrot, celery, Chinese cabbage, collard, endive, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, mustard, onion, peas (English and snow), radish, rape, rutabaga, shallot, Swiss chard and turnip. Hardy herbs may also be planted, such as thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, French tarragon, lavender, chives, cilantro, dill, mints and parsley.