Winter garden update #1

winter gardenIf I’ve piqued your curiosity in the past couple of months by writing about growing veggies through the winter months, you will be interested to hear how that project is going.

I’ve made some mistakes but have also learned a lot so you get to benefit from my new-found wisdom!

You’ll recall that my husband Bill and I built a small hoop house (plastic-covered greenhouse) about a month ago. We even filmed a small video on the project, which you can find on my YouTube channel, in case you missed it or want to refresh your memory.

The hoop house covers two 3′ by 8′ raised beds in my veggie garden. In those beds, I’m growing the following salad greens: red lettuce, mizuna, tat soi, arugula, mache (aka, corn salad) and kale. All had been doing splendidly and I’d harvested quite a bit from the beds… that is, until the “polar vortex” hit the Inland Northwest a couple of weeks ago.

When I checked on everything, the plants were looking pretty sad! Most were wilted-looking and lying on the ground. How depressing.

I decided not to panic because I’ve read that winter vegetables can look pretty dreadful when the temperatures really dip but that they perk up again when it’s a bit warmer.

Today, I checked on them again and here’s what I saw:

winter garden
The mizuna (foreground) has new sprouts; tat soi in rear.

1. The lettuce is still looking awful but I knew it would be the least hardy of the lot. I grew lettuce into December last year, then it died back when we had that bitterly cold weather. The amazing thing is that it grew back from the roots about halfway through the winter and produced quite well. So there’s no point in pulling up the plants.

2. The tat soi is perking up, although there are quite a few frost-damaged leaves.

winter garden
Corn salad, kale &arugula looking better.

3. The kale is looking better, which is encouraging.

4. While the mizuna was the most vibrant of the salad greens, many of the outer leaves have died… but the nice thing I saw was some new growth out of the center of the plants. (see photo above)

5. The arugula also has some frost-damaged leaves but the main growth of the plants is perking up.

6. The mache, or corn salad, hasn’t batted an eye at the frigid temperatures we had, but then, they’re just little seedlings at this point. You might recall how I had dreadful germination when I sowed the seeds a couple of months ago. I kept waiting for them to sprout, which threw me off a bit on my timing, but finally sowed new seeds — and much more thickly — about a month ago. They germinated well but are growing quite slowly.

winter garden

What mistakes have I made?

  • I should have situated the hoop house in a sunnier area of the garden. Fortunately, it’s movable, so I won’t make that mistake next fall! It’s currently located directly to the north of my small greenhouse. When we went out to the hoop house this morning, we noticed the greenhouse was casting a shadow (see photo above) on it since the sun is so low in the sky these days. We did remove some shade cloth that was hanging inside the greenhouse on the south side, so perhaps that will let a little more light through to the hoop house. I’ve been doing some reading and it appears light is the most critical aspect for success.
  • The plants might also be doing better if I started them ahead of time in flats and transplanted them into the hoop house beds rather than just sowing seeds directly in the beds.
  • I could have done a better job of thinning the seedlings for better spacing. This is important, particularly if any slugs have found their way into the bed. They just love it when plants are close together because it makes it easier for them to move around. You’d think a slug isn’t tough enough to withstand cold temperatures but they are — I learned that last year when I came across a couple in the dead of winter! This year I put down some organic slug bait and also caught and removed a large one about 3 weeks ago.

I’m continuing to learn interesting things as I read and research the topic of growing veggies through the winter. Stay tuned for the next update… which hopefully will include better news!