As Barbara Kingsolver observed in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that the time to be thinking about eating local food is in January, when you plan your garden, not in August and September, as you harvest and preserve.
She is right—and, by the same token, the time to think about Fall and Winter crops is not in October, but in June. And I have always struggled with my fall crops because of this. Seeds planted after the Solstice have not germinated or grown well and my energy is pulled away from the back yard in September, when school starts once more. But this June, I was thinking ahead. I purchased my winter seeds, including a cabbage mix, from Territorial Seeds at the Mother Earth News Fair, which occurred BEFORE the Summer Solstice. I planted my cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower seeds in six packs right away, bumped them up to four inch pots after a month, and found the perfect home for them in early August. As of right now, it looks good.
A Garden Plan for Fall and Winter Harvests
Step one: Plant early varieties of potatoes together in one bed, as early as possible, like when the volunteers start to push up in early March. Not only will this give you a nice July harvest of taters, and eliminate some watering, it will also free up a bed just when you need the space.
Step two: Plant the seeds in six-packs in early June, as part of the last round of seed starting. They can sit on the potting bench, in the shade, right on the pathway between bike parking and the house. It is easy to cheer them on and keep them moist.
Step three: After about three weeks, bump them up into four inch pots. This, I think, is key. Trying to keep young plants in a tiny pot makes them rootbound and retards their growth. In a 4-inch pot, they have room to move around and develop some nice roots while waiting for a space in the garden beds.
Step four: Harvest the early potatoes in late July, after they have dried down. While digging the potatoes, turn in all of the straw and leaf much that has surrounded them for months, thus increasing the organic matter in the soil.
Step five: Plant out seedlings, tossing a handful of Biofish fertilizer into each deeply dug hole. Water in, and place your signs. Do not forget to place fencing around the bed to protect from animal intrusions (which I figured out this August, after our third heat wave): Establish a watering system that can be adjusted bed by bed, not one hose running through three beds. When you pull the late potatoes from the other beds, you have to hand water the remaining bed, which is bad. I have some aphid damage because the plants were water stressed in early September.
So, God willing and the creek don’t rise, we will have winter greens.
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