As the first rains dapple the landscape, we still have an opportunity to plant our (California) winter cover crops. These crops will sprout directly in place in your raised beds and grow throughout our wet-cool season.
Edible Cover Crops for Winter
Cover crops help protect the soil from the damaging winter rain drops. Further, cover crops create organic matter to turn into the spring garden for fertility. Because the following cool-season crops are direct-sown as seeds, your kids can help to plant these seeds and help observe them as they develop all winter long.
Fava beans. Wondrous source of homegrown protein and compost. Space 1 foot apart. Plant them 1 inch deep and watch them grow sky high.
Sugar snap peas. Kids love the sugary taste of peas. Space 1 foot apart. Plant them 1 inch deep and watch them climb.
Chard. These yummy greens can provide a harvest each month by cutting them 4 to 6 inches tall and allowing them to re-sprout. You may enjoy harvests monthly through April.
Radish. One of my favorite crops because of their ease to sprout and quickly grow. Scratch a line 1/2 inch deep and 1/2 inch wide and in that line sprinkle radish seeds 3 to 4 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep. Expect a ton of harvest in only 3 to 6 weeks! Because I don’t love their spice raw, I boil radish as a healthy alternative to potatoes.
Arugula. Easy to grow in the gaps of the other crops mentioned above, simply broadcast arugula seeds in the empty portions of the raised bed after seeding the others. You may cut and re-cut the Arugula once a month.
Note: I amend with one bag of finished compost in each 8-foot-by-4-foot raised bed. Plant 1/2 cup of compost into the top 2 inches of the soil.
Evergreen Edible Edges
Add these plants nearby your vegetables to bolster your edible diversity and provide winter nectar for bees.
Mint. Mentha spp. Helps dissuade rodents and gives you winter blooms.
Rosemary or oregano. Salvia rosemarinus and Origanum vulgare. Helps dissuade rodents and offers winter blooms.
Nopal cactus. Opuntia ficus- indica. Edible perimeter fence.
Favored Seed Companies for Winter Cover Crops
Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens and the author of Food Forests for First Timers, available in eBook and paperback. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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