Apologies for the long absence! What can I say? I was ready for a new spring look.
We came back from our trip and hit the ground running! We have been catching up on the weeding, the planting, the weeding, and the harvesting. We’re also getting ready for a sailing trip this weekend, and then I go back to work next week. There are many blog posts yet to be written on all we’ve been up to, including my continuing work on the Grand Master Plan…
But Monday I picked up an excellent local book (the author is on Saltspring Island, which matches our local microclimate almost exactly) on winter gardening at the library, and now that all the summer crops are in, I’m turning my attention to planning for the next harvest. Last year we had some greens and tomatoes through the end of November, but my meager attempts at having the garden produce beyond that didn’t come to much. I planted some brassicas (cabbage, brussel sprouts, etc) by direct seeding too late, and then the slugs got them all. I tried some nursery seedlings, but again, it was late in the season and they were all root bound and didn’t really produce before the weather turned.
Last year my major stumbling block was getting my head around the idea of planting for fall before the summer had even kicked in! But this year I am prepared and determined. Our infrastructure (new beds, better soil, irrigation, hoops) has set us up for so much success, I have no excuses! And now, with Linda Gilkeson’s small book Year-Round Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast to help, I’m ready to start my seeds.
The book walks readers through what crops work here, which ones need any kind of cover, and what kind works for the author, and when and how to harvest. It’s a nice local and simple (empowering!) complement to some of the bibles of year-round harvesting, usually a la Eliot Coleman. Gilkeson also helpfully confirms Steve Solomon’s crop rotation suggestions for the Maritime Northwest. The process, which I really got my head around as I was doing my garden planning this past winter, is much easier than trying to adapt the conventional rotation schedules to our 3-4 crop growing season.
The jist is that early spring crops are usually done by sometime in July (with this year’s late spring, I’m estimating late in the month), and can then be followed by fall or winter plantings. Those early crops could include those that have been overwintered, like garlic or fava/broad beans, also usually done in July. Summer crops–long season ones like tomatoes, potatoes, squash, etc–need to go in the ground in May or June, and so usually need to follow either a cover crop (like winter rye that goes in the fall before and whose spring growth gets tilled under in early spring), or in a lucky year, a very early planting of salad greens or other quick early crops.
So rather than focusing on following a particular crop with another particular crop (ie roots follow leafies), I look at my beds and what’s in them. I have a list of the early crops (peas, spinach, beets, spring lettuces, etc) and pick one to plant that hasn’t been there in the last few years. Then I pick a fall crop that hasn’t been there before and put that in next. When that crop is done, I can either mulch for the winter/early spring, or put in a short spring cover crop early in the new year. This bed will become a long-season crop the next year, to be followed in October-ish by an overwintering crop (sprouting broccoli or a cover crop), that will then be replaced by a spring crop come March/April. Still with me? :)
My next step today was to figure out how much to plant. Remember that for winter crops (I’m planning November to March to be conservative this year), plants are surviving, but not growing. So you need to plant enough that will be full grown by November (or by the first killing frost) that you can consume the whole plant when you harvest it. Some plants will start to regrow in the early spring as soon as the weather warms up a little, but they will be slow. Chard and kale, for instance, will be harvested to the stalk as mature leaves for cooking, but will regrow small leaves in spring that can be used for early salads.
I’m anticipating having salad greens, tomatoes, beans, carrots, parsnips, zuchini, cucumbers (?), chard, and kale (and possibly a fall pea crop?) from my summer plantings right through until frost (or close to it), so I’m really planting now for the post-frost harvest: winter brassicas (cabbage and brussel sprouts, plus overwintering broccoli and cauliflower), extra kale and chard, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, beets, winter Asian greens, spinach, arugula and other mesclun, etc. My winter leeks were started in February and are already in the ground, growing slowly but surely. Some of these crops will get a hoop house when the cold temps hit, some will be fine without any protection (unless we get an unusual cold snap), and I’m also planning to do some greens in pots in the greenhouse.
I’m estimating how much produce I think we’ll eat each week, and planting accordingly. So in a given week, I’m projecting we’ll eat: 1/4 cabbage, 6 carrots, 1 lb brussel sprouts, 1/4 rutabaga, 2 parsnips, 1 turnip, 2-3 bunches of chard, kale, beet greens and/or spinach, 2 beets, plus salad greens and stir-fry greens. Multiply these amounts by 20 weeks, and then I hope I have enough space! These winter harvests will be supplemented by crops in storage (onions, garlic, apples, potatoes, squash, canned tomatoes, and possibly frozen summer produce and berries, and hopefully our own dried beans) and probably a few purchased veggies like mushrooms. I’m also determined to harvest and dry more of our herbs this year–they are so much better than what I usually have in the pantry!
That yummy-looking winter diet (all too familar as we’ve been eating it until VERY recently!) also has some implications for my Grand Master Plan, which includes selling some produce through the summer. In order to figure out how much I can sell, I need to know how much of the summer crop I need to save to sustain us through the winter. The answer seems to be, in this climate, not much. We have gone through most of our stored tomatoes, but still have a few cans of both sauce and diced, and that was in a poor tomato year. I don’t tend to cook with a lot of frozen produce through the winter as we try to eat seasonally anyway, but I was pretty frustrated when the grocery store brussel sprouts and chard that I was buying this Februrary were from Mexico!
So we’ll see how this goes–there’s no way to plan perfectly when it’s all new territory, and I know many PNW gardeners preserve a lot more than me to be self-sufficient in produce year-round. It’s probable that they know something I don’t! But we all have to start somewhere!