Saturday, January 9, 2016

Major announcement!!

I've moved! Please follow me to...

What you'll find:

  • 3 years' worth of my blog
  • powerful search engines that use keywords or categories
  • an interactive events calendar that allows you to customize the display
  • monthly gardening tips
  • planting guides
  • photo albums of my photos, organized by topic so you can easily find the types of photos you're most interested in
  • my favorite gardening products
  • a Travel section, which includes links to the travel articles I've written as well as four galleries of travel photos I've taken in the past few years
  • links to all of my videos, organized by topic, on my YouTube channel
  • links to useful, gardening-related organizations, companies and news sources
  • easy ways to follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIN and YouTube
So please come visit Susan's in the Garden: it has everything you need to be a successful gardener!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Susan's Top Seed Catalog Picks

Every winter, I love getting seed catalogs in the mail. Since I live in an area with very cold winters, I always get a bit of a break from gardening. This gives me plenty of time to pore over the newest offerings in the catalogs and plan what I always hope will be my best garden ever!

If you are new to gardening, or if you don't receive seed catalogs, here is a guide to my favorite catalogs. I've included contact information, what they carry and why I think they're worth checking into.

Before I get started, there's something I want to remind those who live in the Spokane, Wash. area: remember that Northwest Seed & Pet has the best seed selection around. The gal who orders their seeds has done a great job of choosing seeds from many of these catalogs and also makes every effort to bring in seeds that I will be writing about. How cool is that?! So be sure to check them out because they might just save you a bunch in shipping charges.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( _ Sure to be the largest seed catalog you'll ever see, Baker Creek is a real favorite of mine, primarily because they offer a huge array of unusual, rarely-seen seeds. For example, they sell 39 varieties of cucumbers and 54 eggplant varieties! In addition to veggie seeds, they have lots of flowers to choose from. They are located in Mansfield, MO, and can be contacted by phone at (417) 924-8917.

Botanical Interests ( _ I have to admit I'm crazy about the beautiful illustrations on their seed packets. But beyond that, this family-owned business sells hundreds of different varieties of flowers and vegetables, including heirlooms and many that are certified organic. This company is located in Broomfield, CO; their phone number is (800) 486-2647.

Burpee ( _ It's a safe bet that you've heard the name Burpee before because they've been around for eons! They sell both seeds and plants of vegetables, flowers (both annuals and perennials) and fruits. In addition, they offer many supplies such as seed-starting kits, tools, grow-lights, cold frames, tomato mulches and so on. Located in Warminster, PA, Burpee's phone number is (800) 888-1447.

Ed Hume Seeds ( _ While this seed company doesn't have a print catalog, you can find an online catalog at the above website and, of course, you can find their seeds in most garden centers. I like how Ed Hume Seeds is family-owned and operated right here in the Northwest; they've been in business for nearly 40 years. They offer vegetable, herb and flower seeds, with many of them certified organic. Located in Puyallup, WA, the easiest way to contact them is through their website.

Harris Seeds ( _ These folks sell vegetable, herb and flower seeds, along with plants that include leek starts, asparagus crowns, shallots, flowers, veggies and berry plants. They also carry a lot of fun and interesting things such as mushroom kits, seeds for sprouts, light stands, seed-starting supplies, animal control products, pots and grow bags, floating row covers in various weights, frost blankets, raised bed kits, soil testers and way more! Harris Seeds is located in Rochester, NY, and can be reached at (800) 544-7938.

High Mowing Organic Seeds ( _ I love how their seeds are certified organic and that they have free shipping. High Mowing sells vegetable, flower and herb seeds, as well as cover crop seeds, in many different quantities -- something that really saves you money in the long run. Their business is in Wolcott, VT, and you can phone them at (866) 735-4454.

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds ( _ Here's another Northwest company that I enjoy dealing with. In addition to organic vegetable seeds, they also offer both organic and conventional seed potatoes, garlic, onions and shallots. They're also a good source for cover crop seeds, which is a great way to both enhance your soil and improve your plants' vigor. They are located in Ellensburg, WA, and their contact number is (509) 933-7150.

Johnny's Selected Seed ( _ Just looking through this catalog is a learning experience because they have included detailed cultural information for growing the seeds they offer. As you'd expect, they sell vegetable and flower seeds, but the variety selections are excellent. They also are a good source for microgreen seeds and exceptionally cold-tolerant greens for growing through the winter (something that is near and dear to my heart!). I love how they offer seeds in different quantities which, as I noted above, is a great way to buy exactly what you need and save money while you're at it. Johnny's is a good source for cover crop seeds, floating row cover, season extenders, composting supplies, fertilizers, tools and more. They are located in Winslow, ME, and you can contact them at (877) 564-6697.

The Natural Gardening Company ( _ One of the most impressive things about this company is that they are the oldest certified organic nursery in the U.S. They offer vegetable, herb and flower seeds, organic seed potatoes, drip irrigation systems, and organic growing supplies. Located in Petaluma, CA, they can be reached at (707) 766-9303.

Park Seed ( _ In business for 148 years, Park Seed's catalog has a wealth of items that will appeal to gardeners. They sell vegetable, herb and flower seeds; seed tapes; vegetable plants; bird feeders and supplies; berry plants; seed-starting supplies; grow lights; watering supplies; hobby greenhouses, and much more. They are situated in Greenwood, SC, and can be reached at (800) 845-3369.

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply ( _ This company has so many products designed to help you grow veggies and fruits organically. They've been in business for 40 years. Their catalog offerings include vegetable and flower seeds; bulbs; cover crop seeds; fruit and nut trees; seed potatoes; compost and vermicomposting (worm) supplies; soil testers and amendments; drip irrigation supplies; floating row covers and frost blankets; and even greenhouses! What's more, they have how-to videos, growing guides and articles to use as helpful resources. They are located in Grass Valley, CA, and can be contacted at (888) 784-1722. You can even visit their store in Grass Valley -- wouldn't that be fun?

Pinetree Garden Seeds ( _ This Northeastern company offers both vegetable and fruit seeds and plants, herbs, flower seeds. There are also seed-starting kits and supplies; soil testers and amendments; cover crop seeds; landscaping and mulch fabrics; tools; and animal deterrents. In addition, they offer spices and teas; many soapmaking and cosmetic supplies; and all sorts of helpful garden books. They are located in New Gloucester, ME, and can be reached at (207) 926-3400.

Renee's Garden Seeds ( _ While Renee's doesn't have a print catalog, there is an online catalog and you can find the seeds at many garden centers as well. I love the beautifully-illustrated seed packets! Renee's offers vegetable (many are organic), herb and flower seeds with detailed planting and growing instructions. I've found many unusual and fantastic varieties that you can't find anywhere else. There are many articles for gardening success and they also have cookbooks that focus on using one's fresh produce from the garden. Renee's is located in Felton, CA, and you can reach them at (888) 880-7228.

Seeds of Change ( _ This company offers certified organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds as well as seed potatoes and unusual things like horseradish roots and rhubarb roots. They're also a good source for onion and shallot sets, and fruit trees, too. The "Tools & Supplies" section is fun to browse through: it includes outdoor living, composting, kitchen gadgets, irrigation and watering supplies, natural disease and pest control products, seed-starting supplies and season extenders. Seeds of Change is located in Rancho Dominguez, CA, and their phone number is (888) 762-7333.

Territorial Seed ( _ Here's another favorite Northwest company you should know about, if you don't already. Offering many organic options, they sell a huge selection of vegetable seeds, cover crop seeds, fruit and berry plants, and flower seeds. Gardening supplies include seed-starting and potting supplies, raised beds, season extenders, and natural pest alternatives. They are located in Cottage Grove, OR, and can be reached at (800) 626-0866.

Vermont Bean Seed Co. ( _ If you're a bean connoisseur, you'll be impressed by their wide selection of bush, pole and shelling beans. In addition to bean seeds, they also sell other vegetable seeds and plants (however, if you live in AK, AZ, CA, ID, OR, HI or WA, I'm sorry to say they can't ship the plants to those locations). They also sell gardening books, composting supplies, seed-starting kits, tomato-growing aids, and other supplies. Despite the company name, Vermont Bean Seed is located in Randolph, WI, and they can be reached at (800) 349-1071.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

My favorite bird photograph

I think (hope?) you'll agree this is a pretty amazing photograph. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time.

I was walking through a park one summer's day. As I passed a large flower bed filled with daylilies, I heard a couple of rustling sounds.

I froze in my tracks, craned my neck and saw several tiny California quail chicks. They were poking about in the soil and wandering here and there.

Fortunately, I had my new camera (a Canon PowerShot SX50) along with me so I was excited at the chance to get some photos of these tiny fluff balls. The camera has a "vari-angle" LCD screen so I could hold the camera up high while seeing the scene I was trying to frame.

I'd shot a few pictures when something amazing happened:

The papa quail suddenly appeared in the middle of all of the chick activity and stood holding his wings out. I thought, "what in the world is he doing?" because I'd never seen them do that before.

The next thing I knew, all of the babies came a-running and stood under his wings! Soon I saw a couple of them dozing on their feet. I finally realized what was happening: it was nap time and the dad was providing them with protection from the sun and predators. How cool is that?!

So there I stood, taking image after image while saying to myself "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I can't believe I'm getting pictures of this!"

And that's my story. As I said above, I was in the right place at the right time. And I had my camera along with me -- thank heavens for that. It also pays to be really observant of what's going on around you. Before that happened, I had no idea there were quail in that bed or what was about to take place.

I'm very lucky.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Overwintering geraniums: 1-month check-up

I always find it a little scary opening up the box that I'm overwintering my geraniums in after the first month has passed.

That's because the beautifully-vibrant plants I first put in there are now the picture of death and destruction! I'm talking dead leaves and what initially appeared like lifeless plants.

But, on closer examination, I discovered they're doing exactly what they should be doing.

When you're overwintering geraniums, the three things you're checking for each month are mold, shriveled branches and tiny new leaves.

Did I see any mold? Nope.

Shriveled branches? Nope again.

Tiny, new leaves? Yes indeed! If you look closely in this photo, you'll see small, pale leaves emerging from the stems. That's a very good sign.

If I'd seen any mold, I would have clipped that off a plant, or -- if it was spreading throughout the plant -- I would have thrown it out. So always watch for that when you do your monthly updates.

I didn't see any shriveled branches, but last year about 2/3 of the way through the winter, I noticed one plant's branches had started shriveling up. I decided to take it out of the box, lightly mist it with some water and then return it to the box. I was sure I was going to lose the plant so figured it was worth a try. It turns out, the plant perked right up and grew beautifully through the whole garden season. Another good reason to check your plants once a month through the winter!

OK, see you back here in a month...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Overwintering canna lily bulbs: Update #1

This fall, for the very first time, I decided to learn how to overwinter canna lily bulbs. After all, I grow them most years in my deck pots but at the end of the season, out they go to the compost pile. (yes, I'm ashamed to admit this)

While I went through the steps, I shot a video on how to overwinter them. Here's a link to the video on my YouTube channel, in case you missed it.

I'm storing the bulbs in paper grocery sacks filled with shredded paper. It's important to check on the bulbs once a month over the winter to make sure they're not shriveling up or developing mold.

This morning, I did the first bulb check and am pleased to report they're looking good. I didn't see any mold and, as you can see from the photos, the bulbs are plump (that's a botanical term, right?) and there are even some new tips growing. Hooray!

If you are also overwintering cannas for the first time, be sure to mark your calendar to check them each month. That way, if there's a problem going on with one of the bulbs, you're right on top of it before it spreads to the other bulbs.

I'll do another update in January. Happy gardening!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Natural holiday wreaths

'Tis the season for lovely holiday decorations, right? Each year, I make a holiday wreath using natural materials from my garden.

I made this wreath a few days ago and it includes spruce, fir and pine branches, sprigs of arbor vitae and then I added a little bit of "bling" for some color. I used a grapevine wreath for the base because they're really easy to poke materials into. The wreaths are very quick and easy to make. If you listen to Christmas music while doing it, and thrown in some cookies and hot spiced cider, you've really turned it into an enjoyable process!

I've written about making natural wreaths on my blog before because I think it's a great way to personalize your holiday decorations. Here's a link to the post: Make your own Christmas wreath. I have also made a video showing the process on my YouTube channel: How to make a holiday wreath.

And here's a little album of wreaths I've made over the past few years: (you can click on any of the photos to view a larger image)

And here's a photo of some wreaths my friends and I made way back in 2008 during a wreath-making party! If you've never hosted one, I heartily encourage you to do it next year.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Holiday Gift Guide for Gardeners

With the holidays fast approaching, you are probably trying to figure out what to give your family members and friends.

As someone who is passionate about gardening, I think I'm very easy to shop for: anything having to do with gardening or attracting birds to the garden, and I'm a happy camper!

I've assembled a gift guide for gardeners below, with items selected to both delight and accommodate any budget. To make it simple, all are available at Gardener's Supply. I've been a customer of theirs for years and love their products! Just looking through their catalogs is great fun. They carry everything you could imagine for gardening: tools, seed-starting supplies, planters, garden art, birdhouses and feeders, raised bed kits, plant supports and much more.

I have listed the following items from lowest to highest in cost. All of the photos below were graciously provided by Gardener's Supply. Remember that you can click on any photo to view a larger image of it. Each item has a link to more information on their website. (I am not receiving any benefit from listing these products, by the way.)

1. Nitrile Gloves _ You might think this is a very simple gift but what gardener wouldn't appreciate a comfortable pair or two of garden gloves? And the recipient can make a fashion statement while they're gardening because these gloves come in six different colors. Wouldn't coral, pink or green be fun? Nitrile gloves are great because they fit like, well, a glove! You can feel what you're doing while keeping your hands protected. Cost: $5.95 or $5.00 for two or more pairs.

2. Twine Gift Pack _ Twine is something we all can use in the garden (and for other tasks, for that matter). What makes this item special is that you get eight spools of twine in different colors. Again, it's your (or your recipient's) chance to bring some extra color to the garden! Cost: $9.95.

3. APS 24 Seed-Starting Kit _ I've used this kit for ages and it is fantastic. No worries about forgetting to water your seedlings because of the reservoir and water-wicking system. I can attest to the fact that my seed-starting skills improved dramatically once I started using the APS kits. A kit includes the planting tray, reservoir, capillary mat and greenhouse cover. Cost: $19.15. Other sizes are available as well.

4. Mixed Seed Globe Cage _ Gardeners and non-gardeners alike would love having a bird feeder like this! This feeder is both attractive and will keep the squirrels away from your seed. Cost: $29.95.

5. Edwardian Bird Feeder _This is another attractive bird feeder. Wouldn't it look lovely in your garden? This one also will keep squirrels and larger pest birds away from the seeds, which your feathered friends will appreciate. Cost: $39.95.

6. Viva Self-Watering Balcony Railing Planter _ No garden? No problem! These colorful pots rest on a balcony, bringing flowers and nature closer to you. I love the colors they come in: red, blue, black, white, purple and turquoise. And being self-watering containers means the plants will be non-stressed and you won't have to water as often. Cost: $39.95.

7. Garden Hod _ Here's something both useful and attractive. These garden hods make it easy to carry produce you've harvested from your garden. Because they have a wire bottom, you can easily rinse off your veggies before bringing them into the kitchen. The hods come in both small and large sizes. Cost: $44.95 to $49.95.

8. 3-Tube Finch Feeder _ This bird feeder is high on my wish list! ("Oh, honey...!") There are so many finches in our garden (my favorites are the Goldfinches). I know they would love having feeders with so many perches on them (24, to be precise!). This item will bring flocks of finches to your garden, too. Each feeder is 24" tall and holds a pound of niger thistle seed, a finch's favorite treat. Cost: $44.95.

9. GardenEase Kneeler _ Many of you probably remember that I have this kneeler and use it constantly in my garden. I wrote a review of it on this blog back in April after being so amazed by how comfortable it is for my knees. If you have sore, tired knees, you'll love this! The ergonomically-designed handles are easy on the wrists and make it a breeze to get up and down during gardening activities. Cost: $59.89 (note: it usually costs $69.95 but is on sale right now).

I hope this has given you some ideas for your shopping list... as well as items to put on your own wish list  (make sure Santa reads this). Happy holidays!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Winter houseplant care

Dracaenas are one of the easiest-care houseplants you can grow.
Even though our outdoor chores have ended for the season, that doesn't mean we don't have plants to care for.

It's time to turn our attention to the houseplants we share our homes with. If you're wondering how to care for them over the winter months, here are some handy tips:
  • If some of your houseplants were outdoors for the summer and early fall, keep an eye out for any insects that hitched a ride indoors with them. It's better to nip a problem in the bud as early as possible so the problem doesn't become overwhelming for you and the plant. Also, if you suspect insect problems, don't put plants close to each other because the bugs will easily be able to spread to other plants.
  • Water plants lightly and only when they need water, not just because it's your houseplant-watering day! It's easy to get into a ritual of watering -- and I can't blame you because that way you won't forget to do it -- but houseplants don't need a ton of water this time of year. Overwatering them is the quickest way to kill houseplants. If the pot size is manageable, lift it to see if it feels lightweight (dry soil) or heavy (wet soil). Or poke your finger into the potting soil up to the second knuckle to see how much moisture is in the soil. Let one of those two methods be your watering guide.
  • If possible, water the plants with lukewarm water rather than freezing cold tap water. The latter will shock the poor plants, just like it would shock us to take a cold shower! Brrr.
  • Don't fertilize the plants during the winter. They won't need it until springtime.
  • Also wait until spring to re-pot your plants, as needed. It's best just to let them veg out during the winter and not disturb the roots.
  • Remember that the sun is now lower in the southern sky. If you grow plants that prefer bright areas, you might need to move them to a sunnier location to accommodate them.
  • If the plants' leaves are dusty, gently wipe the dust off with a moistened paper towel. This will allow plants to more easily take advantage of the light in their indoor environment. 
  • Keep them out of drafts and, conversely, away from heat sources such as woodstoves, fireplaces and heater vents.
  • Don't let a plant's leaves touch your window panes. The glass will be very cold, especially during our bitterly cold nights, which is another way to shock the plants and possibly freeze the leaves.
  • Remember how dry it is in your house this time of year. If you're growing plants that require increased humidity, consider placing them in a tray filled with pebbles. Add water to the tray every so often... but don't let the plants' roots sit in the water -- that's another quick way to kill them off!
As a gardener, I appreciate my houseplants because they bring life to the indoors, particularly when it's so bleak outdoors. And the little care they need satisfies my desire to be surrounded by growing things.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Root crop harvest

Today was a good day in the garden. Bill and I decided it was time to harvest the last of the crops: carrots, parsnips, potatoes and leeks.

Here's the rundown on how the varieties of each performed this year:

'Red Core Chantenay'
'Mokum hybrid'
Carrots: I grew 'Red Core Chantenay', 'King Midas' and 'Mokum hybrid'. As you can see by each of the three photos (remember that you can click on each of them to view a larger image), 'Red Core Chantenay' had huge roots and won the prize for their heft. I've cooked with them over the past couple of weeks and, even though they're large, the roots are tender and delicious.

'King Midas'
'King Midas' came in second, with mid-sized, attractive roots. They were very productive in the bed and I think the root-size is perfect for most purposes.

'Mokum hybrid' has more slender roots but the yield was respectable.

Parsnips: I had a very disappointing harvest for the first time in all of the years I've been growing it. Darn! The main problem was poor seed germination. I had forgotten that the viability of parsnip seeds drops steeply after the first year, so it's my own fault. Next year, I will definitely use fresh seeds. Aside from that, the variety I grew was 'Andover', which produces very white roots. They were pretty slender this year and some of the roots were quite small. I always plant them in the same bed as the carrots because they're in the same family. Since the carrots produced magnificently, I'm not sure what to attribute the poor parsnip growth to.
My oh-so-helpful potato digger, Bill!

Potatoes: This year, in addition to the raised bed that I planted seed potatoes in, I also tried my hand at growing them in a 15-gallon potato grow bag.

First, the raised bed results: I'm embarrassed to admit that I forgot to take a photo of the whole harvest before we put them into storage! However, they produced quite well and I'm pleased with the harvest. I planted 'Viking Purple' and 'German Butterball' this year. The 'Viking Purple' was more productive and had larger potatoes. I grew them last year and was really impressed with them, along with the bright purple skins and white flesh. The size of the 'German Butterball' potatoes was smaller and we got a smaller harvest from them. We may replace them next year with 'Yukon Gold' -- a tried-and-true favorite for us.

Now, the grow bag results: We filled the bag with organic potting soil this spring and then planted a few small leftover potatoes from last year. You can see the total haul in the photo. Since I've never used a grow bag before, I wasn't sure how much of a harvest to expect. What do you think? Have you had better harvests than this from a grow bag? If so, maybe we didn't give them enough water. I know potatoes don't like a lot of water so we just used a single drip-irrigation tube to deliver the water to the bag.

Leeks: If you saw my recent video on growing and harvesting leeks, you know I was pleased with how the plants performed this year. I planted 'King Richard' seeds in January and am always amazed at how such tiny seeds -- and seedlings that look like a blade of grass -- can yield such big roots! As we harvested them today, we cut off the green leaves and the roots, to make it easier to store them in the fridge.

How am I storing everything for the next few months? Well, the carrots, parsnips and leeks are being stored in plastic bread sacks or grocery bags in the vegetable drawers of our refrigerator. The potatoes are a different story: Bill tried a method last year that I was sure wouldn't work. It turns out, he knew better than I and proved me wrong! He puts slightly damp straw into a plastic bin that has a lid. Then he puts the potatoes into the straw, covers the bin and stores it in our unheated (but insulated) garage. By the way, we don't wash off the potatoes before storing them because that can accelerate spoilage. We just dig them up and let them dry off a bit in the shade before storing them.

Now obviously I have way more produce than we can eat so I'm donating lots of carrots (and winter squash, too) to the food bank. I would have also donated some of the parsnips but the harvest was rather underwhelming to say the least!

I hope your root crops grew great this year and would love to hear which varieties you are pleased with. Just drop me a line at

Monday, November 9, 2015

Winter Gardening Q&A

As you have no doubt heard me say, I love growing veggies through the winter months in our cold climate! I live in Spokane, Wash., in USDA zone 4b/5. It gets very cold here each winter. I found I was really missing having fresh salad greens so I began researching and experimenting with doing this. And, of course, as a gardener, I really wanted to see if I could fool Mother Nature!

I've shot three videos on this topic so far this fall, which you can find on my YouTube channel (#1, #2 and #3).

However, I often am asked questions about what it involves so thought it would be helpful to do a quick Q&A on growing a winter garden. Here's what folks are asking me:

"By the end of the regular gardening season, I'm ready for a break. Why would I want to do even more work for months after my garden is put to bed?"

I completely understand how you feel, but the main task of growing a winter garden is harvesting your produce during the fall and winter months. You don't have to weed, water, prune or mulch.

"When do you start planting?"

I start most of my cold-tolerant veggies from seed indoors in late July or the first of August. Those are crops like kale that need a bit of a head start before planting them outdoors about 4-6 weeks later. Some cold-tolerant veggies need to be direct-sowed because they don't like to be transplanted; I do this in mid- to late August. The seed packets will indicate which sowing method is best.

"Which are the most cold-tolerant crops I can grow in a cold climate such as Spokane?"

Kale ('Vates', 'Winterbor', 'Starbor', 'Ripbor' and 'Redbor'), Claytonia (miner's lettuce), corn salad (mache) and Minutina. If you're not familiar with the last 3 -- and most folks aren't -- they are easy to grow and really add a lot to salads. I love trying new things and this is the perfect opportunity to do that. Other veggies that will grow until about December include 'Bordeaux' spinach, arugula and mizuna.

"Why don't you have to water the plants? Won't they get too dry?"

You would think so, but once it starts getting chilly, the soil will retain its moisture and whatever you covered the plants with (floating row cover or plastic) will also help keep the plants hydrated by holding in the water that has been transpired by the plants. I stopped watering my plants in about mid-October this year.

"How do you protect the plants from the cold?"

You can keep this as simple as you want, or get fancy!

Simple method first: I've had success with just covering the plants with a sheet of floating row cover at the time we start getting frosts and then as it starts getting a lot colder, I place a sheet of heavy-duty clear plastic over that and it works well. It's important to use hoops over the bed to hold the plastic and/or floating row cover over the plants. And it's really important to clip the cover(s) to the hoops so the covers won't rest directly on the plants which could cause them to become frosted.

This is a photo of another gardener's set-up.
I should also mention that the hoops should be sturdy and/or tied together with twine so they won't collapse during heavy snow. (see photo to right)

The fancy method: Cover the bed(s) with a simple plastic-covered hoop house or use grow beds inside an unheated greenhouse.

If you're going the plastic sheeting route, make sure it is anchored down so it doesn't blow off during strong winter winds.

"What types of problems do you encounter? Are there any insects?"

You would think it'd be too cold to have insect problems but I've encountered three types of insects over the past two winters. Fortunately, I know how to thwart them!

The first type of insect is slugs (technically gastropods), which can do a lot of damage to plant foliage. Refer to my method for organically eliminating them.

The second type is cabbage worms, which are the larvae of the cabbage butterfly. I know members of the cole or Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale) are susceptible to them. As soon as I plant my kale outdoors in the fall, I cover the bed with a sheet of floating row cover to prevent cabbage butterflies from laying their eggs on the foliage. It works great.

The last type of insect is the leaf miner. The adults are flies. They lay eggs on the leaves of spinach, Swiss chard or beets. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel through the leaves, ruining the crop very quickly. Covering the bed with a sheet of floating row cover as soon as you plant any of these crops will also resolve this problem.

"What else is involved in growing vegetable crops through the winter?"

I recommend checking on your plants once a week, although if you're harvesting them regularly, that will suffice. You're mainly just looking to see if there is any insect activity.

"Anything you've learned the hard way, that I should know about?"

Yes! Do NOT underestimate the importance of daylight! Make sure your winter veggie bed is in as open an area as possible. Avoid locating it next to a building or under a big tree. Plants need all the light they can get, in order to be successful.

"What references would you recommend, so I can read more about this?"

There are three excellent references that you will find very helpful:
  • Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999, 243 pp.)
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009, 248 pp.)
  • Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, 2011, 248 pp.)
Good luck! Remember you can always email me if you have any more questions.