Winter Garden, Part 3

With spring looming on the horizon, this seems like a good time to record what I’ve learned this winter about growing cold-weather crops in containers with no protection from the elements other than the south wall of the house itself. It all pretty much boils down to two important things:

1. Stuff grows a whole lot slower in cold weather than it does in warm, sunny weather. That sounds like a no-brainer, but I was really surprised at how *much* slower everything grew. I planted in mid-November, and have yet to harvest any mature plants. I’ve had a few nice salads made from thinnings, but by mid-February I’d really expected more. Here are my little broccoli transplants that I moved into their own planter in December:

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Granted, this has been an unusually cold winter for SoCal, so maybe in a more typical winter I’d have been harvesting broccoli florets by now.

2. Stuff grows REALLY slow when it’s crowded. I overseeded my original planter, and every time I thin out the seedlings more seedlings sprout. This overcrowding has seriously stunted the development of the little plants. Behold:

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As you can see, these are really tiny for three-month-old lettuces and kale.

So to summarize, this fall I will plant my winter garden a few weeks earlier and use a lot fewer seeds.

One other interesting thing I learned from my experiment is that carrots grow just fine here in the winter, but radishes apparently won’t even sprout in cold weather. At least, mine didn’t. This surprised me, since I’ve always understood them to be a cool-weather crop. It might have been a fluke, I guess; maybe the radish seeds were defective. I’m going to try them again next fall, just to see.

And now it’s time to start preparing my spring/summer garden bed….

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Categories: food, Gardening, Life, Weather, Winter | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Winter Garden, Part 3

  1. Dani

    yes, My “harvest in 53 days” Carrots took all winter long to harvest, I planted at end of Sept and have just been harvesting them in Jan.

    The seeds i planted (All winter/cold weather plants) this spring, so far have not sprouted, although I have been talking to them..

    😉

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  2. julia

    Hey Deb-
    I went down yesterday and bought all the material to build a worm box for those little crawlers you gave me. I want it to be a permanent structure able to keep them alive through both the hottest and coldest weather Anza throws at us, so the box will be built out of 2x6s and be enclosed in an exact replica of itself-a box within a box, and the space between I am planning to insulate with straw that I can wet down in the summer. I feel like a geek, but I am really excited by the whole worm compost thing, and the prospect that I can actually use what would otherwise be trashed and turn it into food for my raised beds. I am also going to get some kind of barrell to use to compost larger stuff like leaves and red-shank….what would you call that-leaves? bark? Anyway, I’ve read that if you keep it slightly damp and keep a good mixture in there, by rolling it every day you can REALLY speed up the process.
    By the way, there were about a million little rolly polly stow aways in that dirt I brought the worms home in. I did some reading, and there are mixed beliefs on whether they are harmful to plants. Mostly they seem to do the same job as worms, without the beneficial worm poo result. I will try to get them all out before I use that dirt anywhere outside, just to be extra safe.
    Tell Elizabeth and Luke and Steve Hi for me

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  3. dsilkotch

    Dani — lol! I totally feel your pain. How long ago did you plant your spring seeds? Oh! I’m going to try growing eggplants this year! I’ve never grown them before, but they tasted so yummy at your house that I want to try them myself.

    Julia — I always call it “that papery stuff from the redshank trees.” ;^) That all sounds really cool, let me know how it works! I never really got into formal composting myself, I just use a deep straw mulch in the summer and it rots into the soil on its own by late winter/early spring. I do have a big pile on the other side of the garden area where I toss everything I rake off of the growing section in late winter, but “Mount Compost” gets bigger every year since I never bother to go back and use what I’ve composted there. Eventually I’d like to add another growing plot; I guess when I finally get around to doing that I’ll at least have massive amounts of old compost to start it off with. :^)

    Whether pillbugs are harmful or beneficial completely depends on the health of your garden. If your soil is lacking in organic material and your plants are struggling, the pillbugs will prey on the weakened vegetation. If your soil is full of rotting organic matter and your plants are strong and thriving, and haven’t been weakened by chemical fertilizers and such, the pillbugs will remain in the soil and be a valuable part of the composting process. My soil is teeming with the little guys, but it’s been years since they’ve touched any of my living veggies.

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