In the Garden:
To me, peeling bark, persistent berries, or even a skeletonized Chinese lantern are the true delights of the season.
Treasures From My Winter Garden
When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from California's central valley, I spent the first two years waiting for summer to arrive. I didn't know that summers here were typically cool and wet and that what signaled the changing of the seasons was barely more than a few fallen leaves and an occasional dusting of snow. I have since learned that with a little advance planning I can grow vegetables literally nine months of the year. An added benefit to growing vegetables during the winter is that it's actually easier than growing them in summer. The need for watering, fertilizing, and pest control is greatly reduced this time of year.
Row Covers, Cloches, and Cold Frames
I extend the growing season by protecting plants from cold weather. Some of the devices I use to help keep plants growing are cloches (hot caps), floating row covers, and cold frames. Cloches enclose individual plants; row covers protect rows of plants or entire beds; cold frames protect especially tender plants by helping keep the soil a few degrees warmer. My cold frame is a 3- by 4-foot wood frame box with the back cut higher than the front. This creates a sloped top that captures sunlight and allows rain to run off. The top is a removable frame covered with polyethylene plastic film.
Mobility Means Efficiency
A sunny, well-drained location protected from the wind is ideal for permanent cold frames. However, I like to move mine around the garden, setting it over groups of plants that need protection. I dig a shallow trench and then bank up soil around the sides to secure the cold frame each time I move it. Heat for the frame comes from the sun, and during the night the cover retains enough heat to protect the plants. I raise the cover of the frame occasionally during sunny days to reduce the temperature inside and to provide ventilation. Otherwise, humidity can build up quickly within the frame and invite diseases, such as damping off, mold, and botrytis.
Plants grow more slowly during cooler temperatures, and that means I'm harvesting when the plants are still small. Leaf lettuces are perfect for this type of growing. I just snip or tear a few of the outer leaves from each plant when I need them, allowing the remaining leaves to continue growing.
Plenty of Options
Mesclun mixes are natural for cold-frame growing during the winter months. The lettuce and other greens in this mix tend to be cold hardy and can be harvested when small. Bok choy is another favorite winter veggie. It's a member of the cabbage family and can be used like cabbage, but the flavor is milder and slightly sweet, with just a gentle hint of cabbage taste. The stalks are juicy and tender enough to eat raw. Kale, pak choy, and parsley are also cold tolerant and easy to grow. A few leaves or sprigs of these greens really liven up a winter salad.
It takes some planning and some labor, but by continually sowing seeds and maintaining my garden, I can be rewarded with crisp and crunchy greens all winter long. I think it's well worth the effort!
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