Fall/winter garden gets underway!

Remember how I grew veggies through the fall and winter months last year? It was mostly an experiment to see if I could pull it off. Of course, I initially only expected the plants to grow during the fall and then die. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to still be harvesting some of them in April! Crazy.

Last August, I planted spinach, lettuce, carrots and bunching onions. Spinach performed the best. The lettuce grew well until it got really cold in December, then died back... although it did sprout from the roots again in very early spring. The onions did so-so and the roots of the carrots developed rather oddly. I later learned that you should plant them much earlier than I did.

But the bottom line is that yes, you can grow vegetables during the cold months of the year, even in zone 4b/5a, which is where I live.

Fast-forward to this summer, when I learned much more about this process. I am excited about trying it again, which involves making a few slight changes so I can be even more successful this time.

One important thing I learned is that I should have chosen more cold-tolerant crops for my experimental bed. Also, I should use 6-mil greenhouse plastic to cover my beds as it's heavier duty and should provide more protection for the plants. And lastly, my husband Bill is hoping to make a small hoop house (a type of greenhouse covered with plastic) that will fit over 2 of my raised beds. It will be portable so we can move it to different areas of the garden each fall. All of this is getting me excited to see how things will grow!

Which brings us to the photo above. What you're looking at is the first of my 2 fall/winter beds, which I planted the first week of August. The closest row is a mix of lettuce to get us through the fall (then it will probably die back), the middle row is mizuna and the back row is tatsoi, an Asian green. (remember that you can click on the photo to view a larger image)

There's another bed right next to it (see photo to right), which I just planted this morning with corn salad (mache), arugula and kale. When I interviewed Peaceful Valley resident Greg King for the article I wrote on extending the garden season (Gardening goes undercover), he told me that you just can't beat the performance of kale during the colder months. That's all I needed to hear!

You'll notice there are hoops and bird netting covering each of the beds. That's because we have a lot of birds in our garden that just love to nibble on freshly-sprouted seeds. That will never do! So I'm protecting them with the netting. Once the weather gets colder, I'll replace the netting with floating row cover for a few extra degrees of frost protection. After that -- and if Bill doesn't have time to make the hoop house -- I'll replace those lightweight hoops with something stronger so they'll hold up under the weight of snow and cover the bed with a layer of plastic.

Here are some links to posts I wrote about last year's experiment: Fall garden updateAnd the fall start still lives on! and Fall garden still going strong.

If you're looking for sources for cold-tolerant seeds, try Northwest Seed & Pet, if you live in the Spokane are). Two excellent sources for seeds and information on fall and winter vegetable gardening are Johnny's Selected Seeds and Territorial Seeds.

So that's what's happening at this point with my fall/winter garden. I plan to update you on how everything is growing over the next few months. And I really hope you will give this a try, too!