Tips on Planting Your Winter Vegetable Garden

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Tips on Planting Your Winter Vegetable Garden
Tips on Planting Your Winter Vegetable Garden

Tips on Planting Your Winter Vegetable Garden

Tips on Planting Your Winter Vegetable GardenTips on Planting Your Winter Vegetable Garden

You might think of vegetable gardens as being endeavors that are best taken in the spring and summer, but planting a winter vegetable garden is actually a very old practice. Not only can it produce vegetables, but the practice can also help keep your garden fertile year round.

If you would like to plant a winter vegetable garden, then you need to take your climate and precipitation into account. A lot of areas in the southern part of the United States are very well suited to growing winter vegetable gardens, while some of the northern regions might have to use greenhouses, cold frames, or hotbeds.

The most important thing to know, other than what plants are suitable for winter gardening, is when the first frost is going to set in. In some areas, it might be October and for other areas, it might actually be later. The idea is to plant your crops and to let them mature before that first frost comes in. For the sake of this article, we will assume that the first frost is coming in late October.

Some crops that are late maturing include globe onions, fava beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnip, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, and rutabaga. These can be planted around mid-July if you want them for your fall harvest. As an alternative, they can also be planted later if you want them for a spring harvest. They take around 90 days to mature.

There are also mid-season crops such as leeks, turnips, early cabbages, winter cauliflower, early carrots, Swiss chard, collards, and perennial herbs that can be planted by mid-August and harvested in the fall. They take around 60 days to mature.

If you want to plant later in the season, then you should consider early maturing crops which mature in 30 days. These can be planted in your winter vegetable garden in mid-September. Crops that fit into this category are radishes, chives, broccoli, spinach, leaf lettuces, and mustard.

Cold frames can be used as a means of lengthening the growing season of your crops. They protect your crops from the elements and are permanent structures. In areas that have a short season, they can actually let you seed 8 weeks earlier.

A cold frame can be built using an old window sash and plywood. It should be about 12 inches in the front and 18 inches in the back with the glass covering on top. It should also face south so that it gets a lot of sunlight and be built on a slight slope in order to encourage drainage. When it’s cold, you can cover the frame with a heavy cloth.

Raised beds can also be used. They can be made out of bricks, concrete, stone, and even old tires. The soil in a raised bed can even be as much as 12 degrees warmer than it is elsewhere in the garden. Tires can be particularly good because they absorb heat.

Of course, greenhouses can also be used to grow anything from winter vegetables to tropical fruit.

If you are growing a winter vegetable garden, then it is important that you mulch. Mulching helps insulate the plants and helps keep away weeds and grasses. During periods that are dry, it can also help decrease evaporation from the soil. Sawdust, bark, shredded newspapers, and peat moss are some common materials that are used in the wintertime for mulching.

It is also important to rotate your crops too and not to plant the same crops in the same location that they were in the year before. Not only will this attract the same diseases and insects, but it will also weaken the soil. By letting that soil “rest”, it is able to restore its nutrients. You can also plant cover crops such as fava beans, red clover, alfalfa, and lupines which can be plowed into the soil to add organic matter to it.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment with the timing. In fact, parsnips are actually at their best when harvested in January or February once they have been touched by frost. The frost makes them taste sweeter. Likewise, Brussels sprouts also have a better flavor if they have been touched by frost, too.

Winter Garden Care: To Spray or Not to Spray?

(Pic: Johan Gerber) Mealybug on agapanthus
 Mealybug on agapanthus

From June to August is most likely the time of year for the best physical exercise in our gardens. It is that time of the year where we exercise the physical part of garden care where we sharpen our pruning scissors and whatever tools are needed to remove diseased and damaged as well as insect infested parts of plants where possible. Depending on your region; it is the most important time for pruning roses, deciduous fruit trees, and various other plants as well as controlling winter pests on evergreen plants. For those of you that have no or very low infestations of insects like scale (red, pernicious, wax, black, etc.), Australian bug or mealybug, as well as mite species, you are the more fortunate in terms of safeguarding healthy populations of their natural enemies during the summer months. You are also more likely to be the one that has been more careful in what you have sprayed during the warmer time of the year to protect nature’s pest controls. If you are one of the less fortunate, look back and make a list of pesticides you have sprayed. The chances are very good that what you have been spraying to combat destructive pests also wiped out their natural enemies. During the colder months, the natural enemies of most pests are less active and that is then normally when populations like scale and mealybug increase. This is where winter spraying comes in, if necessary.

(Pic: Johan Gerber) Pernicious scale on rose stem A pernicious scale on rose stem

Scale species can be present all year round in most regions and is normally more of a problem in shady, protected areas and their presence is normally given away by ants running up and down the plants or nesting round infested plants. Scale infestations can be found on leaves, twigs, branches, and fruit.

Of all options available to control scale, physical removal of infested plant parts during the winter months is one of the best. That is of course where it is possible to remove such parts. The use of pesticides should be to target infested areas which can not be removed. Once infestations are under control, nature’s biological controls will stand a much better chance to keep populations low. A rose badly infested with a pernicious scale that is already experiencing serious die-back should rather be replaced, serious spraying will be necessary to remove such infestations.

(Pic: Johan Gerber) Red scale on citrus branchA red scale on citrus branch
 

Mealybug normally occurs on twigs, branches, fruit, and leaves. Many prefer secluded spots on plants and are many times hidden and not easily detected unless looked for. For most gardeners, infestations are high by the time they are detected. Populations can be found all year round and mealybug is known to be found on various varieties of container plants right through the winter, peaking into spring, after which their numbers can be kept under control by natural enemies. But, if natural controls are negatively affected by pesticide sprays, numbers will increase further towards late summer. The absence of many natural enemies makes the winter months the ideal time for breeding, especially in protected, shielded areas of home gardens.

(Pic: Johan Gerber) Wax scale on evergreen Eugenia branch Wax scale on evergreen Eugenia branch
 

Females of mite species (e.g. red spider mite) go into a resting phase during the cooler times of the year which is induced by the aging of the plant or as a result of an extreme cold. This resting phase can be terminated by high temperatures, or it can continue for several months during cool periods. Beneficial insects associated with spider mite control are ladybird spp, minute pirate bug, predatory mite, predatory thrips, spider mite destroyer, and western predatory mite.

All of the above said brings us to the main reason why many of you have been tolerating the smell of lime sulfur for many years. The main purpose of spraying lime sulfur or a mineral oil has been to kill overwintering stages of insect pests on plants during their dormancy period, especially after pruning. Today, many natural oil formulations are available which can also be sprayed onto new or young growth. Plant oil formulations like Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide and Vegol contain canola oil and are designed to be used during dormancy as well as active growth periods of plants. Alternatively, use mineral oils like Grovida Orchex or Efekto Oleum. These oil formulations can only kill small bodied insects like aphids, scale, mealybug, whitefly and red spider mite on contact with no secondary poisoning to beneficial insects and wildlife and can be used on roses, fruit trees, ornamentals, and edible crops. Oil formulations applied directly after pruning leaves a protective oil layer on wounds. If necessary a general fungicide like Copper Count-N can be added to the oil spray mixture for sanitation of pruning wounds.

If you can do without spraying by purely removing badly damaged, diseased and insect-infested plants, the better. Spraying is only necessary when you experience specific insect and disease problems that can be controlled without removing the plant.


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