Ever thought about planting a winter garden, but not sure what to plant? Fret not, here in coastal Northern California, we are blessed to have a mild winter that allows us to keep our garden going year round. By integrating some simple DIY strategies, you will no longer feel like you are missing a single growing season.
Discovering all the amazing cold tolerate winter crops is an excellent way to begin planning your garden. Think of what you and your family love to eat and plant from there. Amongst some of the amazing veggies that thrive in our mild winters (and year round for that matter) are broccoli, cabbage, radish, spinach, collards, Brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, parsnips, chives, potatoes, leeks, mustard, broccoli, turnips, beets, chard, lettuce, peas, fava beans, carrots, celery and parsley.
Understanding your plant’s hardiness is an excellent step in growing a successful winter garden. The hardiness will indicate to you, how much extra care your plant(s) will need, if frost is expected. Some simple solutions, that work, are using old sheets to cover citrus and other tender plants and trees. Note the sheet should reach the ground, in order for it to be effective, as the soil gives off heat and you want to be able to capture as much of it as possible. Use clamps and bricks to keep the sheet in place. Other, more time-consuming, solutions could be creating a tunnel over your garden bed using stakes, old PVC pipes and a row cover to place over your new structure. Firm wire can also be used instead of PVC pipes, but offers less stability. The tunnel solution can also be easily adjusted if the temperature gets unexpectedly warm, you can simply slide off the row cover. Row covers not only raise the temperature but also protects your plants from pests, a solution used year round by some farmers. If kept dry and properly stored, row covers can last year after year. Another simple solution, for raising the temperature in your garden, is by using cloches on individual plants. Cloches are coverings for plants during cold temperatures. This solution can be difficult if you have a large garden or farm, but could be used if you have a handful of plants that you’d like to protect. Have some large plastic water bottles hanging around? Cut the bottoms and voila, you have your cloches! Place bottle over plants during freezing weather.
Using cold frames is an efficient solution if you find yourself without a greenhouse. Cold frames are small enclosures with a glass top that can easily be opened or closed and used to protect plants during cold weather. Cold frames can be fancy or rudimentary – depending on your budget. Either way, cold frames are indispensable in Northern California gardens, as they help extend the seasons in the winter and in the fall and are essential in protecting your seedlings as they harden off. The idea of a cold frame can be mimicked by using an old window and leaning it against some thermal mass ie: concrete wall and placing your plants inside. It is a simple and cost-effective solution to protect some of your plants against frost.
Keep in mind that although we received some refreshing rain, we are still in a drought. It’s a good time to begin gardening with unpredictable weather in mind, as climate change is proving to us that we really don’t know what to expect year after year.
Saving seeds is one of the easiest and most practical ways to innately adapt your seeds, to your soil, climate and region while also making them less susceptible to pest and disease. When you save your seeds in a drought year, those seeds that are saved, will be inherently more apt to growing with the need for less water. This is not only opportunity for more regionally adapted seeds, in a time when water is uncertain and food prices are on the rise. The USDA states that drought in key agricultural areas or other severe weather events could potentially drive up food prices beyond the current forecasts.
This is a fabulous time to start thinking of the delicious ripe tomatoes you will be enjoying this summer, you may want to consider dry-farming them for optimal taste! And don’t forget to start your tomato and pepper seeds indoors
Want a spring garden abundant with flowers? This is an ideal time to plant wildflowers, as they need to vernalize before they can germinate. Wildflowers provide forage for our pollinators and butterflies while offering us their beauty!
Written by: Kirsten Hudson for Organic Authority
Handed down through generations, heirloom seeds offer a taste of the past. Often described as “open pollinated” seeds that have a long history, heirloom seeds can make for a diverse and downright gorgeous, organic garden. Like a family keepsake, these seeds offer something precious. Once planted, they’ll bloom into a one-of-a-kind fruit, vegetable, herb or flower that hasn’t been tainted by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides.
Modern hybrids, which are created by crossing two selected varieties, often produce infertile plants. But heirlooms will yield the same plant year after year, which means you can always save the seeds for next year’s crop. Heirlooms also offer a connection with history. Essentially, you’ll be eating the same plump tomatoes that your ancestors enjoyed.
So, what else makes these vintage seeds inherently superior?
Many hybrid fruits and vegetables have been bred to produce more crop, or to resist certain diseases and insects. Unfortunately, these “features” often sacrifice taste in the process.
Plants from heirloom seeds weren’t designed to be carted across the country or hoarded in cold storage for weeks, like many commercially grown fruits and vegetables. Instead, heirlooms were carefully selected for their flavor. After all, who wants to go out to their backyard garden and pick a bunch of carrots that taste like cardboard?
And once you’ve tasted a juicy heirloom tomato, it’s unlikely you’ll ever think the same about a supermarket tomato again.
With heirlooms, taste and nutrition go together. You can’t get much fresher than just picked-off-the-vine or pulled-from-the-dirt fruits and veggies—and that means maximum nutrition.
Hybrids, however, have been bred for certain traits—such as producing higher yields—that sacrifice nutritional content in the process. The traits that make carrots, potatoes and other produce uniform in size and faster growing can also mean a lower quality food.
Heirloom fruits and veggies come in an all-out medley of kooky shapes, colors and textures. From deep red carrots to wonky-shaped tomatoes to bright pink bananas, you just can’t get the same fun variety from hybrid fruits and vegetables.
By choosing to plant heirloom seeds, you’re participating in a mission to diversify our food supply and preserve cultural history. As commercial growers increasingly opt to only plant a small variety of species, we’re losing genetic diversity in our seeds, and therefore our food. This can potentially compromise the nutritional value of our food, lead to issues with soil in farming and potential food blights. Couple that with the increasing GMOs introduced into our produce and it’s a potential recipe for disaster… convinced yet?
Several organizations offer GMO- and pesticide-free heirloom seeds. Browse their catalogs and get excited for this year’s garden!
Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson
Brigid Gaffikin as written for The San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Paul Chinn / The Chronicle
Matthew Hoffman and Astrid Lindo, owners of the Living Seed Co., grow several varieties of produce and plants in their garden in Nicasio.
The couple have embraced the educational potential in the Internet, too. They have a lively Twitter feed, a blog and a Facebook page as well as a YouTube channel with instructional videos on seed-saving techniques.
So you got your seeds in the mail, you’re so excited … but not quite sure where to start? Still pondering what seeds to buy?Wondering what the difference between hybrid and heirlooms?Well first think of the space you are working with and plan accordingly. Since you are ready to plant, hopefully your soil has been amended properly with organic matter or you are starting your garden with an organic soil mix (we would recommend anything that is OMRI certified). Remember, healthy soil = healthy plants, everything begins in the soil. If you have not had your soil tested and are not sure what may be in your soil, we recommend raised beds and/or containers. More info on container gardens coming soon, so stay tuned to my next post Following the Sun – Container Gardening 101.
Some of your varieties will grow horizontally, think squash, while others grow vertically, think peas. Taking this into consideration is key to a successful garden. I would recommend finding an unused journal or notebook that you can designate as your garden journal. This is key to help you remember where you planted things in past seasons. To keep your soil healthy it is important to rotate your crops, if you are planting heavy feeders. Rotating can also prevent diseases from being transferred from one plant to another. Our seed packets are a wealth of information and will inform you if varieties are heavy feeders or not.
Now its time to plant! If you are direct seeding, planting in the soil, you will want to make sure there is ample space between everything (each variety needs an allotted amount of space). Don’t be too paranoid and use a ruler in the garden; gardening is more organic than that, no pun intended. If you over-seed, you can eat your mistakes, but crowding your vegetables can also compromise their nutrient intake and can ultimately stunt your crops. There is a fine balance so just have fun! There are some seeds that can be broadcasted, instead of being planted individually. As those seedlings start coming up and growing their first “seed leaves,” start to rogue (pluck out) the weaker ones. As the leaves of the seedlings begin to start touching, rogue those out as well, over-crowding is a disadvantage when the roots and the growth of the plant become compromised.
Make sure that you have followed the directions on each seed packet, about how deep each variety should be planted. Each seed packet is choke-full of great info that will help guide you to yielding a great harvest!
After all your seeds are tucked away in the earth, remember to sprinkle them generously with water. This is what will awaken your seeds, this is where magic happens! The soil must continue to stay moist for germination to occur, this means watering every day. Should the soil dry up, you may risk having lost those seeds. Remember you are nurturing this tiny seedling to emerge into the world, it needs your love and care … and even your song, so don’t be shy! If you are starting some of your seeds indoors, don’t forget to harden-off your seeds before planting them in the soil or moving them outside, that means exposing your seedlings to colder air little by little. Some folks use a cold frame, which is also great solution.
Continue to nurture your plants until the completion of your harvest. Plan accordingly if you plan on saving your seeds. You may want to grow extra plants, so you can enjoy some of the harvest and save the seeds. Use your Basic Seed Saving book that we provided for you for the best information on how to properly save your seeds.
Storing your Seeds
Remember seeds, are living embryos, they should not be left in a hot place, ie: your car or a hot garage. As long as the seeds are being stored in a cool and dry place, they will be fine. We recommend keeping them stored in the Mylar envelop the come in.
Try to keep them out of direct sun and moisture when you are in the garden planting. If you choose to store them in the refrigerator, they can last from 4 – 10 years (depending on each seed’s viability).
If you do choose to use the fridge as your seed storage facility, make sure that the zip lock part of the envelope is sealed. When you do use the seeds, just let the Mylar bag sit out at room temperature until for a couple of hours, to let the seeds get to room temperature, to avoid moisture condensation forming in the seeds inside.