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!