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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Planting a fall and winter garden

Here we are, in the Willamette valley of Oregon, halfway through June, having just finished planting our gardens for summer and fall harvests, and it's already time to begin starting some seeds for our fall and winter harvests, as well as our overwintered vegies that will feed us early next spring.  For those who are fairly new to gardening it probably seems counter-intuitive to plant fall and winter crops during the heat of summer, but when you consider that it will take months to mature crops planted now, it begins to make sense.

So, here's how we do it at the Sharing Gardens.  We start broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce and chard  around the 3rd week of June and into early July.  We carefully drop two seeds into each cell of a jumbo six-pack or a suitable smallish pot using a complete organic planting mix with good water retention capability.  Black Gold is a great brand if you don't have access to your own blend of compost, leaf mold and weed free garden soil.  Any brand of 'Organic" potting mix should do just fine.  The important thing is that it be able to hold moisture throughout hot summer days and that there be no other weed-seeds that could germinate. Once your seeds germinate, thin them to one plant per cell or pot.

For starting seed this time of the year we set up a table on saw horses outside the greenhouse.  A mist head sprinkler is set up on a timer to come on at 10:00 AM and then again at around 5:00 PM. This should be adequate to insure that the soil doesn't dry out.  Keep an eye on your starts and make adjustments or include an extra hand watering as needed.  You also will find it helpful to set your six-packs in shallow trays on a level surface to hold water for supplying moisture over longer periods throughout the hot days.  However you do it the key is to maintain constant moisture. 

Another thing to be aware of is that some birds LOVE tender young greens and will actually dig out young seedlings as they begin to emerge.  This problem can be averted by purchasing some floating row cover which will allow water and light to get through but will thwart the birds.  The brand we use is called 'Remay' and is available by the foot or in small rolls at local garden supply stores and nurseries.  It can be reused for years if it is kept away from nesting rodents when being stored.  Another more permanent solution is to build frames covered with window screen to put over your starts.

In planning your year round garden you'll want to get used to the idea of earmarking the places where your fall and winter plantings will go.  After your early plantings of greens are harvested, be ready to add compost and other soil amendments a couple of weeks ahead of your later planting to give the soil a chance to reestablish healthy populations of worms and other soil organisms before setting out your later crops.  With practice and experience you will begin to establish a pattern and rythym and the process will become familiar to you.

When your starts are about 4-6 weeks along, it's time to transplant them into the garden into the beds you've previously prepared to receive them.  Just open up holes large enough to drop them in place and gently press them into the soil. Be sure to give them the proper spacing apart from each other.  Crowded plants don't produce as well as ones with plenty of room to expand.  And it's also very good to give each 'start 'a dose of manure or compost tea to get them off to a good 'start.'

The internet is a wonderful resource!   We went online and did a search, 'vegetable planting guide for Willamette Valley Oregon'  and found a printable guide compiled by Oregon Tilth,  which helps to take the guess work out of garden planning.  You can do a similar search if you are not in our general area.  There are a variety of other vegetables you can probably grow aside from the ones I've mentioned here.  We want you to know that the harvest doesn't have to end with the first fall frosts.  You can enjoy eating fresh vegies pretty much year 'round in many parts of the world.  This article only touches on some of the techniques for fall and winter gardening.  We hope that you will look into the subject further and be well on your way to greater food security for yourself, your immediate family and your community of friends.  Be well!!!!