Monday, October 19, 2009

Winter Vegetable Gardens

Plant carrots in January and you'll never have to eat carrots.
~Author Unknown

Living in the Pacific Northwest you can get used to the rain, in fact expect rain. But yesterday even for here, there was a whole lotta rain. We set a rain record for that day in history. It was a good rain to water the garden, which endured a very dry summer, and a good rain to bring down many more leaves for raking and spreading over the soil for winter mulch. By the afternoon the sun shone again and I ventured into the vegetable garden to see what remained that I could use for dinner. I was going to make veggie quesadillas, so I brought in a leek to add to the spicy sauté and 3 cucumbers to “cool” off the jalapenos. It was quite a tasty paring and especially nice to be able to bring in something from the veggie patch even now in mid-October. There are still a few green beans I need to pick, I’ll get about a handful, and the kale and winter lettuce is growing nicely. Kale is a cool /cold weather vegetable and I should be able to harvest leaves most of the winter through spring. Mine is the Tuscan variety, aka Black or Dino kale. The leaves are not the big ruffled type but long, dark and a little bumpy in texture. It’s wonderful chopped (be sure to remove and compost the tough central ribs) and sautéed in olive oil with fresh chopped garlic and salt and pepper and a little freshly ground fenugreek. On reader Shari's blog I follow, there's a recipe for baked 'kale chips'. If you like to eat healthy, keep fit and love a good belly laugh you'll love this blog. I made some kale chips from her blog and they are yummy. To find the recipe and instructions go to You can also go to for many more posts or click the link found to the right of this page.
As for the winter lettuce, I will cover it to protect it from the bitter cold winter months. Around here protected winter lettuce goes dormant over the winter. The growth slows down to barely a crawl but if you protect it from freezing it will begin to grow again in the late-late winter months. Last year we had a record breaking cold winter, but I was able to pick enough lettuce leaves from a few plants to make a small side salad for two on Valentine’s Day.
Lettuce varieties planted for the winter months are not necessarily the same varieties planted for the summer months. Be sure to read catalog and package descriptions and instructions carefully for better success. In the spring, seed racks should contain summer varieties of veggies and in the fall they should change over to those better suited for fall and winter temperatures.
It’s easy to make a shelter using PVC pipes and corners and T’s. Cut the pipes to the lengths you want with a hack saw, make it tall enough off the ground so as not to smash your plants and be sure to angle it for rain run-off. Otherwise it will sag and collapse onto the plants inside.

Over the frame work I drape a large sheet of bubble wrap and over that I drape 2 layers of thick 5 mil plastic sheeting cut to size. These 3 layers of plastic are then held in place with ‘garden clips’ that I mail ordered from Territorial Seed Company. Find them at or call 800-626-0866. To describe these clips and how they work is difficult but if any of you are old enough to remember the old style clips that cupped over your hair curlers to hold them in place (long before hot rollers)...yep that’s how they work. Ingenious little things and they last a looooong time. I’ve had mine for many years, use them every winter but never had one break. They come in different sizes depending on the diameter of the PVC pipe you use. I have two sizes as the bubble wrap adds thickness.

In so doing you are making a coldframe. The bubble wrap is especially important. A little trick I learned from the English via their fabulous gardening magazines. They use bubble wrap to insulate the glass in their green houses so I thought I’d try it with my coldframes. Equally important is that the bubble wrap goes UNDER the smooth plastic. Otherwise it will get water-logged with rain or melting snow and sag. Believe me you don’t want to be out there in the blowing snow re-working the thing…like I did. Since I began doing the bubble wrap trick I’ve never lost lettuce due to freezing. But remember I am in zone USDA 7-8. Previously it was hit and miss. I can’t guarantee this for the mid-west or eastern states where your freezing goes deep into the soil, but here it has worked like a charm for me. Unfortunately large bubble wrap sheeting is hard to find. I think I saved mine from some shipment or something. On those warm, sunny spring days don’t forget to lift a corner of your coldframe, or pull it away from the wall an inch or so if your’s is like mine shown above, to let some of the heat escape. They can get too warm, just like a greenhouse, you’ll want to vent out some of the hot air.

Last year for the first time I also tried to protect a lettuce plant from freezing with a “Wall-O-Water”. It worked! It even got snowed on, but the water didn’t seem to freeze and the lettuce plant began to grow again in late winter. I think we ate that lettuce in April. You can get a Wall-O-Water 3 pack at most hardware stores with a garden center. They are like a teepee with vertical channels you fill with water. They are placed around the plant and the warmth of the day is stored in the water and released back in the cold of the night. They are typically sold to use for young tomato plants in spring.

By the way, these are not paid for endorsements…just info on what has worked for me that I want to pass on.

Lettuce and kale are the only vegetables I’ll be over wintering this year. I’ve tried Brussels sprouts twice but the aphids are such a nuisance and burrow deep into the sprouts, I gave up. Too bad because I love oven roasted Brussels sprouts with potatoes and carrots tossed in olive oil, garlic, basil, rosemary and onion. Carrots can be grown in summer and kept in the soil well into the winter months too. It’s wonderful to go out on a stormy day and pull up a few carrots for a wonderful hot soup simmering on your stove.

There are many more winter vegetables that do well in the cold. Quality mail order seed companies will have spring and winter editions of their catalogs, changing seed available depending on which will tolerate cold or heat. Your local mail order seed companies have catalogs full of options. Read them carefully, there’s a lot of education to be had in them. Local may not mean your immediate city but chances are there are small and family owned seed company businesses that cater to your local climate needs. These companies offer seed that have been tested to perform in your zone. Some of the big companies are not so selective. They simply offer what sells best nationwide and you have a better chance of failing. The smaller local companies have your growing success as their best interest. The two I rely on most around here are Territorial Seed Company (link above) and Nichols Garden Nursery ( both located in Oregon.

Do you have a vegetable garden? Do you grow any winter veggies? I’d love to hear from you, what you’ve grown, how it worked or if you are inspired to try next year. Just click on ‘comment’ below and let me know your thoughts. It may be too late to start growing now but it’s never too late to plan for next year.

In bloom in my garden today: Eupatorium ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed), blue fall Crocus speciosus, Skimmia, hardy geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’, Kirengeshoma palmata, Ajuga, Cyclamen coum, Hosta lancifolia, Caryopteris, Digitalis (foxglove), Echinacea, Salvia, Daphne, Roses, Coreopsis, Nepeta (cat mint), Solanum crispum, Gauara, Fushia, Phygelius (cape fushia) Schizostylis, Borage, Alpine strawberries, bulb Fennel.

Author’s photos


Shari B. said...

Hi Joan,

Another post where I go, "Wow! She sure knows her stuff!" (Not that there was any doubt!) Bubble Wrap? Who'd have thought??

Every time I read your posts you make me want to go make a soup of some sort. Then I get lazy and open a can of Amy's ;) I'm getting there, I promise! I actually CONSIDERED looking for a recipe today for a butternut squash bisque :) See ... baby steps!

To answer your post question: No veggie garden here, at least not yet. I'm really considering herbs now since I can do them indoors, but my sprouting attempt did't give me the added confidence boost I need to take the plunge! And I intend to have a garden sometime in the near future. Sprouts, herbs, then veggies. :)

Thanks so much for the mention of the blog and the kale chips! I mentioned yours in my post on the same day! Great minds think alike!

Have a great day!

Joan said...

Hi Shari,
Thanks blogger friend for the plug!

Butternut squash soup!! Great minds do indeed think alike...I started collecting butternut squash soup recipes last year. Haven't found a winner yet but just cut one out last week that sounds uses coconut milk. Once I get a can I'm going to try it!

Definately do try herbs...not much better than fresh picked herbs to spice your dinner. You can make your own dried herbs too...just pick and wash and spin dry (or pat b/t 2 towels) the leaves or stems. Arrange them on a flat dish and put them in the fridge to dry. Can take a few weeks...shuffle them around a bit on the daily. They get crumbly dry when ready so you can crush them into your glass spice jars to use for many months. For rosemary just cut the stems in about 4" lengths. When dry the 'leaves' just crumble off the stem with your fingers. You can chop up the rosemary 'leaves' if you don't like the whole spikes, but I keep mine in a spice grinder.

Have fun!!

Shari B. said...

Ohhhh I have coconut milk in my pantry! I might have to do an "" ingredient search!

The herbs sounds great...! Thank you for the instructions on how to dry them!