The harvest basket is reaching the brim and the temperature is suppose to reach 90 degrees today, but believe it or not we are overdue to plant the winter garden! There are lots of vegetables we can grow in our mild winters, but they need enough time to get established before the winter chill sets in. I’ve also got a few tips to share on where to plant the winter garden and how to find room in your crowded beds.
Keep in mind that areas of your garden that currently get full sun might shift in winter. Trees that once shaded spots of your garden might become full sun when the leaves drop. Areas near a fence, house, or other structure might become partial or full shade as the sun casts longer shadows. On our homestead, two of my raised beds become partial shade from the nearby shed/coop stretching it’s shadow over them.
The easiest way to make room for your winter garden is to pull bolted summer crops. All of our lettuces came out of the raised beds and became chicken food. But with most of the garden still in high production, I needed to be more creative to fit all our winter veggie starts.
I trimmed lots of excess leaves off our tomato plants – in part to encourage fruit ripening rather than foliage growth, but also to free up ground space for veggie starts. Kale is tucked in between the towering tomatoes where it will get enough sunlight to get started. I will carefully pull the tomatoes in October, right around the time when the kale is getting big and leafy. The kale will then enjoy full sun all winter long.
Another planting strategy is to time what you harvest with what you need to plant. For example, I have a bed mixed with beets, eggplants and peppers – all ready for harvesting. I planted arugula and spinach in that bed. As they get bigger, the ripe plants around them will move into the harvest basket.
Concentrating on just two of my four beds is efficient in other ways. I only need to cover two beds with greenhouse plastic and can focus my watering on a smaller area. My cover crops will get planted in the remaining two beds, so they won’t be totally bare all winter.
Other fall crops we can still plant now in Portland include garlic, shallots, beets, fava beans and greens. Some will produce a harvest through winter and some will just cling to life, but produce a harvest in early spring when temperatures warm. Look for varieties well-suited for winter specifically, when available. Happy planting!