Archive for January 8th, 2007


My father took this picture of me in early 1957, just before I was four years old.  As you can see, I have been gardening for a very long time.  I don’t know if long experience makes me an expert, but an awful lot of people ask me for advice.  Of course, I am happy to be asked my opinion, since I have plenty of them.  It is always nice when people want you to share.

garden-in-july.jpgSo, this is a picture of my vegetable garden taken in July.  If you click on it to enlarge it, you will see that in the bed in front of you is lettuce going to seed, with some carrots right next door.  The bed behind that is planted with black turtle beans, which are a bean you grow to dry and shell out of the pod.  They make wonderful bean soups and refried beans.  To the left of the black turtle beans are my pole beans, which are climbing on tipis I made from bamboo a friend gave me.

“What does this have to do with planting a winter garden?” I hear you asking.   This is an example of what I refer to as “garden multi-tasking”.  When I plant my garden in the spring, I always try to think about where I want to have my cold frames for the winter.  I also want to think about proper garden rotation at the same time. 

You don’t want to plant your tomatoes and peppers in the same place every year.  Same way with corn or squash.  You want to move things around in the fond belief that this will confuse the aphids, squash bugs and harlequin beetles.  It does, to a certain extent.  However, all plans have their little “Murphy’s Laws” that crop up now and again.  Quite often the bugs are not fooled by the rotation.  So it is good to hire a few wrens and bluebirds to police the place for you.

Over the years I have discovered a pretty good rotation.  It was complicated a few years ago when I put in an asparagus bed and took that area out of circulation.  For a few years after that, it was a challenge to find a proper rotation.  And I want to keep my beds in use most of the time, as well.  No lazy lying fallow for my beds.  I beef them up with compost and plant a second crop nearly every year, and they perform very well.

What I find works very well for the winter garden is to plant onions in the bed in early spring.   They are done by mid-June.  Then, in order to build the soil up a bit after the onions have used it (onions are very heavy feeders), I plant a crop of beans that have a short growing season, knowing that as they grow they will put nitrogen back into the soil.  The black turtle beans serve this purpose very well.   As soon as the beans are harvested, I hoe the soil a bit, smooth it out, and plant carefully spaced rows of lettuce, mesclun, beets, wild kale, brocolli raab, spinach, arugula and mustard. 

The idea is to plant these late enough in the summer that they don’t burn to a crisp, but early enough that they will be good sized when winter hits.  I cover them with cold frames, which act like live cold storage for the plants.   They go into stasis when it gets cold.   They don’t wilt or turn yellow, and when you pick them for salad they are fresh and tasty.

I did not figure all this out all by myself.  Eliot Coleman wrote a spectacularly good and informative book called “Four Season Harvest” which lays out in great detail how to accomplish this feat.  I give him all the credit for my success as a winter gardener.

Right now, I can pick beets, arugula, oak leaf lettuce, spinach, brocolli raab, kale, endive, mizuna, mustard, parsley and dill and make a spectacular salad.  Bon appetit.

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