Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winter Garden, History (2015)


Last Year's Garden on 12-26-2015
During the Fall a few years ago I was lamenting that garden fresh vegetables were ending so I devised a plan to extend my harvest. I pulled a long plastic sweater box out from under the bed, put it on the front porch and dumped in potting soil. Into the dirt I threw lettuce, onion, carrot and radish seeds. My covered concrete porch faces south so I knew it would be the warmest place for my miniature greenhouse.

It worked. Within a few days the seeds sprouted and began to grow. Soon there was enough for me to begin harvesting a few leaves for sandwiches, followed later by small salads. It continued to grow and flourish into the cold weather. This surprised and pleased me tremendously. Then about the middle of January, on a bitter cold night everything died. I decided it was well worth the effort for the harvest I had gotten and would do it again. Well, it was really not that much work, dumping dirt in a box on the front porch and then opening seed packets.The hardest part was digging under the bed getting the sweater box out.

Since it was bitter cold, working outside was not on the top of my to-do list, I left the sweater box sitting on the front porch; bringing it back in the house to store sweaters was no longer an option. To my amazement, in late February I passed by the box and noticed green sprouts! The seeds that had not sprouted in the fall could now receive sunlight (I had dumped all of the seed packets into the box) and they were sprouting. Again I had a small garden. I was on to something.

The next fall I extended my winter garden into the big garden and covered certain plants in plastic. It worked for a while but was not very successful. The air underneath the plastic would heat up quickly and if I did not run out and vent it, the plants would die. Think of getting inside your car on a sunny day and how hot it can suddenly become. This was what was happening to my plants, bitter cold at night and burning hot during the day. I put a thermometer underneath the plastic and it would easily hit 95 degrees on a cold day. This temperature swing was devastating to the plants.

Last Year's Garden on 12-26-2015
I turned my attention to the oracle (internet) to see what I could learn and discovered there is such a thing as a winter garden! Yes, you can have a garden deep into the winter! It requires a few things:

1. Choosing plants that are winter hardy and can survive the cold weather.
2. Planting them at the right time so they can grow to be the right size to withstand the winter.
3. Providing the right type of protection against the elements for less hardy plant varieties.

As with any gardening situation, there are still a hundred other variables, but this is really the basics.

Winter Garden on 12-26-2015

Winter Garden on 12-26-2015

Winter Garden on 12-26-2015

The website I have discovered with the best information on winter gardening is Mother of a Hubbard or Motherofahubbard.com. This lady has a winter garden with over 250 different plants and lives in Kentucky in plant hardiness zone 6b which is hundreds of miles north of me. If she could do it, so could I.

Last Year's Garden on 12-26-2015
Last year (2015) was my first attempt at growing a real winter garden. Was it a success in my opinion? Once again, my criteria for garden success is: producing enough food for my family for one year with the minimum amount of work and cost.

First, since this was the first year it was more expensive because I bought many new seeds. My focus was on winter hardy varieties. I did not purchase any hybrid varieties but only open pollinated varieties so I could save the seeds.They did produce many seeds, but I failed to adequately label the plants and so this year am guessing what has sprouted. I don't care. I like surprises. Last year I had no idea I would be blogging and showing the world my garden so I guess you get to be surprised too.

The other BIG expense was the covering. Since this was an experiment, I was not willing to make a big investment. I purchased row cover fabric at a hardware store and got whatever was in stock. As best as I can remember, it was 12' by 12' and cost about $25. I cut it in half, hand sewed it end to end and made one long strip. Then I searched through the shed and found all types of PVC pipes and made an assortment of hoops. When the middle began to sag during the winter, sticks with used plastic solo cups on top worked perfectly to keep the top from smashing the plants. Since the fabric could be used repeatedly for many years, I was careful not to poke holes in it with the sticks.

Second, minimum amount of labor during the summer. There was NO summer labor during a winter garden. What is so wrong with working in a summer garden you ask? I cannot bear the southern heat. I am an old woman! OK. OK. I FEEL like an old woman. It is less labor intensive to grow plants in the winter than the summer. The bugs are less, the weeds grow slower or do not sprout at all and water evaporates slower so there is less watering. Last year I did not water the winter garden once after it was established.

Third, ease of harvest. Picking vegetables in the winter is not much different than the summer; however, I was not harvesting what was ripe then rushing in the house to also cook lunch, can, dehydrate and freeze the extra. In the winter, I harvest enough for just a few days. I will be freezing some soon to send to Nana for her freezer, but that is all. 

Fourth, producing enough to last until next year. Preserving food for the following year no longer became a priority. The purpose of a summer garden is to sustain you through the winter months, but if you are still producing during the winter, the plan changes. The summer of 2015 was one of the busiest canning and dehydrating years of my life. I preserved more than in any year before but ended up not using much of it because we ate so much fresh food from the winter garden. It has really changed the way I use my pantry. Which would you say is best? Fresh food from the winter garden or canned food from summer garden?

Last Year's Garden on 12-26-2015
Yes, I do consider last year's winter garden to have been an absolute success. The money spent on seeds and row covers were investments for the future just like buying tools for the garden. Food harvested from the garden was so much better and cheaper than anything we could have gotten in the grocery store. The money saved more than paid for the expenses.

Last Year's Garden on 12-26-2015

I plan to be sharing posts during the winter so you can see my successes and failures.



4 comments:

  1. I love your garden! It looks like you were able to grow a ton of stuff last winter! Where do you live? It looks drier and warmer than rainy Oregon where I am.

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    Replies
    1. I am in lower middle Tennessee about 50 miles south of Nashville. I looked on the USDA plant hardiness map and Portland, Oregon is about the same zone as my area. You could plant a huge winter garden just like I am doing. In fact, anyone can do it even as far as Canada. The difference is what you plant and when you plant it. We are wet here during the winter, soggy wet then in summer heat and no water. I am planning on sharing everything I am doing this winter so hopefully others will give it a try.

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  2. Thanks for the info on Mother of a Hubbard. I've done the container planting but never inground in the winter. Sorry that the armadillos are back. Dorothy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dorothy, I wanted to just cry. I have another friend who has one that burrowed under the foundation of her garage then multiplied! Her whole yard is destroyed. They are new to this area and I am hoping this winter they will freeze to death!

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