Too cold to grow veggies in winter, days too short, you say?
Victoria is blessed with a mild winter climate. Our coastal influences create a unique microclimate; in fact we share our planting zone with California, Arizona, into Texas, and then across the Southern states.
Short days and low light may not be quite the barriers we think. Take a quick look at a world atlas. The 44th parallel passes through the south of France and the Ligurian coast of Italy on the sunny Mediterranean. In other words, by being on the similar latitude, we have the same day length as those solar paradises. Our ocean influence doesn’t afford us the same high temperatures as the Mediterranean, and we get more winter rains, but we are still blessed.
Happily there is a group of veggies that prefer the cold, there is no reason to stop gardening when our heat seeking favorites tell us they have had their day in the sun.
When you are choosing winter varieties it is important to look for clues on seed packages, such as low light, frost tolerant, stands all winter, suited to short day length. Good sources of seed are British, and Dutch as they have a long history of growing winter vegetables, and share similar climate. In fact our latitude affords longer days for better growing than our European friends enjoy. We have some great local seed companies, and are developing our own varieties, and growing traditions.
West Coast Seeds
Seeds of Victoria
Full Circle seeds
A big advantage of winter gardening is that most hardy plants continue to yield well into the spring. This gives you a big head start over gardeners who wait till Spring to plant. You will have been harvesting for months and they will be placing their first seeds in the cold ground. Winter vegetables are harvested Oct- April, filling in where the spring planted garden leaves off.
In Victoria you can have fresh salad greens 12 months of the year, and grow more than 30 winter hardy vegetables.
Broccoli, Sprouting Broccoli
Chinese cabbage, Oriental greens
Corn Salad (Mache)
Cutting leaf celery
Leaf Mustard, mustard Spinach
Rapini, broccoli rab
Scallions, sweet onions
Swiss chard, leaf beet
Add to the list hardy perennials
Some of these do not produce crops till spring
A year round garden produces all winter, and is most effective in early spring. Forget the panic to get in the early spring planting, (except for the peas), you can be harvesting instead. Why not wait for the warm weather to plant your spring, and summer veggies.
When to plant
Most winter crops are sown in late July or August. They fit into the planting schedule after the salad greens, radishes, and peas are finished, and after the storage onions and garlic are pulled.
Main planting windows
Mid – June
Sow the large, long-lived cabbage family vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting Broccoli, winter Cauliflower, and cabbage.
Seed carrots on the July holiday they will mature late fall and provide fresh carrots over the winter. This is also the time to sow beets, rutabagas, and other roots, as well as radicchio, kohlrabi, and leaf beets
The end of July through the beginning of August is a good time to plant fall lettuce, kale, Chinese greens, spinach, mustards, and other leafy greens as well as onions.
Sow corn salad, arugula, cilantro, and lettuce for harvest in mid winter. In warm years you can continue planting into Sept, but may not be as productive as earlier planted crops.
If you miss these dates not to worry, the worst that can happen is that seedlings will be too small by the time growth stops to provide much of a harvest. All is not lost, because the plants will grow again in February. They will still provide a crop much earlier than spring planting.
Crops must be up to a certain size before growth slows, which usually is when day length drops to under 10 hrs, Oct 30 to Feb 11th. Hardy vegetables should be up 6" before first frost in order to withstand the winter weather. If your starts are behind you will have to help establish them, all you need is a thin layer of plastic to protect plants.
Plants under cover grow faster, cover also helps avoid damage from wind and rain, and waterlogging
Straw or leaves makes great protective mulch, and helps prevent crowns from heaving, or damage to root crops.
Many cold hardy leafy greens can freeze solid without being damaged. Most hardy greens can tolerate temperatures to –5C without protection.
Extending production to year round is the best use of space, and efforts.
If winter/spring harvests are important, start your garden plan around them. You can use charts, to start your planning backwards from fall. Plan where you want your winter crops, and make sure you plant early maturing spring crops there.
1/3 of your garden would be a good starting point for winter garden planning. The best areas are the most sheltered, and best drained.
Drainage is essential to the winter garden; this is where raised beds have a great advantage
Sunlight, it is important to find the sunniest spot. You may find that because of the low angle areas that are shady in the summer may now have light. A south wall would be ideal.
Protected areas work best, beside a rock wall, south walls, under overhangs are usually slightly warmer and less windy, and foundations hold heat.
The most important trick to learn about these vegetables is to not harvest while frozen. Whereas a few veggies can be harvested frozen most will thaw as mush. If you wait till the weather warms to above freezing they will be perfectly fine.
The best way to harvest leafy plants is one leaf at a time. You can achieve 4X the harvest by weight using this method. The plants are left with the maximum leaves to continue growing. As harvesting leaves continues through the winter the plants will get smaller, as there is little replacement growth, but as it warms up in February longer day length and warmth will begin to stimulate growth. By April these established plants would be growing rapidly
Crops that remain in the ground over the winter are the easiest to store.
Carrots, leeks, beets, parsnips, daikon, rutabaga, and celeraic
Tops of vegetables like carrots die down in Nov so mark rows, and where you left off harvesting.
All plants will benefit from mulching, but you may still want to cover some plants. When the top layer of soil freezes it expands the cycle of freezing and thawing can tear fine roots, and heave the crowns of plants. Cover the entire bed of root crops that has died down in November will protect the tops from frost damage. Straw or leaves makes good mulch. Adding a sheet of clear plastic should be enough for those really cold spells,
That comes along.
Winter gardening management
Crops grow slowly in the winter so should only be fertilized with compost, a good organic or slow release fertilizer. They don’t require much during periods of slow growth but will appreciate it being available when they begin to grow again in Feb.
Fertilize your cold frames, the same as your garden soil. There are plenty of good organic fertilizers available, or a top dressing between crops, of limestone, rock phosphate, green sand, and alfalfa meal is adequate for all but heavy feeding crops like spinach. Cottonseed meal will replenish heavily depleted soils. Well-finished compost can be added at a rate of 20L per (5-gal bucket) for every 12 feet of 30’ row.
Enjoy your winter gardening, you will have done most of the work in the summer, and can relax and harvest. Watering will be nearly non existent, do remember to check water on plants under protection.
Most of the summer pests have gone for the season, except perhaps for those darn slugs.
Harvesting will be as needed, think of your garden as a big refrigerator. Fresh greens from the beds, and root crops are stored in the ground.
You will be saved the processing and rushing of harvesting the glut of summer bounty.