Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2009
Regional Report

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Mesclun is a combination of several varieties of loose leaf lettuces, ready to harvest about 40 days after seeding.

Remaining Optimistic About My Winter Garden

I've learned through trial and error I can coax my garden into producing edible vegetables nearly year-round. It takes some planning and some labor, but by continually sowing seeds and maintaining the garden, I can be rewarded with crisp and crunchy greens all winter long. Growing in winter is actually a little easier than growing in summer since the need for watering, fertilizing, and pest control is minimal.

This winter has been especially challenging because of the unusual amount of snowfall we've received and the subsequent flooding, but most years the winters are mild and I've been successful. Forever the optimist, each fall I plant with purpose, expecting a bountiful harvest during the winter months.

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 (hotcaps) and cold frames. Cloches enclose individual plants; cold frames are more efficient, protecting multiple plants. My cold frame is a 3x4-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.

Mobile Frames
A sunny, well-drained location protected from the wind is ideal for a permanent cold frame. 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 soil up 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. Humidity can build up quickly within the frame, and without good air circulation, diseases such as damping off, mold, and botrytis can suddenly destroy plants.

Tempered Expectations
Cooler temperatures mean plants will grow more slowly than during their normal growing season. That means harvesting when the plants are still small. Leaf lettuces are perfect for this type of growing. I just snip a few of the outer leaves on each plant when I need them, allowing the remaining leaves to continue to grow.

A mesclun mix is a 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. 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.

Most importantly, enjoy getting outdoors and into the fresh air. It will be spring before you know it!

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