A Winter Vegetable Garden in Northern California

comments (10) June 15th, 2009

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The sweet rewards of winter gardening are worth the effort of stretching the season.
Cole crops such as cabbage and broccoli are the stars of the winter garden.
A floating row cover can protect your winter crops from frost damage.
The sweet rewards of winter gardening are worth the effort of stretching the season.Click To Enlarge

The sweet rewards of winter gardening are worth the effort of stretching the season.

Photo: Marc Vassallo

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Getting off to a good start
I plant in established raised beds from which I’ve already harvested a summer crop, so I don’t have to do any more digging or tilling. My beds were previously double dug and well nourished with organic matter, so after removing the old vegetation, I just add a few inches of compost and other soil amendments as needed to supply the incoming plants with fresh nutrients. Planting year-round requires close attention to soil fertility, or your garden won’t flourish.

  Get more info on growing cool-season vegetables:

• Cabbage
• Carrots

• Onions
• Kale

Extending the Salad Season
• Cold Frame Gardening

I use aged compost, which has had time for excess salts that might harm crops to have leached out. My choice of amendment is mushroom compost, a medium used to grow mushrooms. It contains straw, horse manure, chicken manure, gypsum, peat moss, lime, molasses, and cottonseed meal, to which I sometimes add grape pumice and rice hulls.

If you don’t have raised beds, soil preparation is even more important, to create good drainage. Heavy winter rains make good drainage essential in my garden.

You’ll probably need much less space for your winter garden than for your summer garden, since winter vegetables are more compact than tomatoes, melons, and squash. I use three raised beds, approximately 4 feet by 20 feet each, along with a 20-foot row for snap peas and snow peas, which provides family and friends with ample produce all winter long. I recommend planting one bed in root crops (carrots, beets, and onions), another in cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy), and another in salad greens (lettuces, mesclun, spinach, and chard). I plant winter crops closer together to prevent erosion from hard winter rains.

Chard   Cabbage
Cabbage   Cauliflower   Broccoli
Cole crops and greens are the stars of the winter garden. These crops grow to maturity in cool weather without bolting.
Plant at the right time
Fall lettuce
  In climates such as the author's, in northern California, lettuce seedlings can be planted throughout the winter, providing a staggered harvest.
Since most vegetables come in many varieties, with different maturation rates, you can plant your winter garden all at once and still be able to harvest over several months. For instance, plant 6 or 12 plants of three different kinds of broccoli and cabbage, with maturity dates of 60, 80, and 100 days. For beets, onions, and carrots, you can plant the same variety of each (preferably one suited for over-wintering) and harvest them at different stages of growth, as needed. Chard, spinach, lettuce, and salad greens are also suited for an extended harvest if you take just the outer leaves and let the plant continue to grow. Since lettuce and most greens tend to mature quickly and germinate well in cool temperatures—they are the exception to the rule that warm conditions are required for germination—you can sow or plant out new transplants every three or four weeks throughout the winter. However, since lettuce won’t bolt in cold weather, you might opt for the easy way: Plant everything at once, and be done with it.

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posted in: winter garden

Comments (10)

KlaasNelen writes: nice idea.
Posted: 1:11 am on November 8th
Onzaleelvir writes: Great ideal!
Posted: 3:06 am on September 15th
Eritacey writes: I love to grow green vegetables!
Posted: 4:27 am on August 11th
Eritacey writes: I love to grow green vegetables!
Posted: 4:27 am on August 11th
VaneelaCharon writes: Interesting!!
Posted: 1:59 am on May 25th
ParrlaSonders writes: I love to growing plants!!!
Posted: 4:18 am on January 30th
Posted: 12:57 pm on September 13th
franny97405 writes: Cluster your potted plants around your dryer vent for a boost of humidity and warmth! I used my resin picnic table for wind protection and have lots of tomatoes to show for it.
Posted: 10:52 am on September 14th
MaryMD writes: I do not live in Northern California. I live North of Seattle WA at 1600 feet in the North Cascades. We supposedly are Zone 5, but I figure I am more zone 3 (Can get into the 20's for a week or two, snows most winters, and rains the rest of the time.) We are in a narrow mountain valley, so the cold sinks down to us.

I have an unheated greenhouse and this year added a cold frame using a heavy, clear vinyl cover. I want to have greens all winter and plan to keep my cabbages under frost quilts and harvest them as I need them. Broccoli is growing, but has not set heads as of November 3. I would love to hear from others who have a less-friendly winter climate about what you have found is a successful approach. We are entering our second winter with this garden (it was a summer only garden before we moved her full-time)and the first where I have done serious winter gardening.

Posted: 12:42 pm on November 3rd
Mileap writes: I don't know what part of Northern California you're in, but I'm in Sonoma County!

Turned my old chicken coop into a garden, and voila...what a crop last year!

Right now, peas are growing, broccoli and cabbage...

I tried straw bale gardening...LOVE IT!

Any other helpful hints you care to share?

Posted: 7:58 pm on January 26th
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