Part two of our winter gardening series will focus on bed preparation and location.
I have three 4 x 8 foot beds that are covered in the winter by cold frames and 2 more raised boxes, also 4 x 8, that we cover with hoop houses. These beds are used very intensely through out the year; in fact each bed averages about 3 different crops in a 12 month period. The bed in the picture below was full of lettuce in the fall of 2010, mache during the winter and potatoes from March until July. Now you can see that it is full of our winter carrots.
Because these beds are used year round it is extremely important that you add compost to the soil often. You can very quickly deplete the soil of its nutrients if you are not constantly amending the soil. I also make sure that I never leave the cold frames or hoops in place longer than needed. I want to be sure the beds are open to the air and rain as much as possible. The cold frames remain in place for 5 or 6 months a year and I want to be sure the beds get aired out to prevent the build up of disease or pests.
As you can see above I usually try to dig the bed a few weeks before I replant. I then try to give the chickens a chance to dig through the bed to add a little fertilizer and clean out bugs. The bed you see below was full of spinach and Swiss chard last winter and spring, I then planted parsley and string beans for the summer which I dug up a week ago. This bed is the last of our winter beds to be planted. It will contain lettuce, kale, Chinese cabbage, mache and claytonia. Most of these will be planted from starts except the mache and claytonia.
Because you are planting in late summer and fall, water is very important. In the spring cool temperatures and rain help the seedlings along. But the hot weather of August and September requires that you pay really close attention to keeping your seedlings wet. I usually water every day in August and about every other day in September. This seems to really help the plants get off to a great start. You can see in this picture that our lettuce and chard are doing great but we really had a problem with germination on our spinach. The seeds were new so I think lack of water from the sprinklers in this area is the culprit.
It’s important to plan your plant rotation well in your winter beds. Again because of the intense usage you need to be sure to rotate the types of crops you plant. I try to keep lettuces and mache in one bed, carrots on their own, spinach, chard and other crops in a third. And rotate each year. The hoop houses are used for kale, lettuces and carrots.
Don’t plan on planting any warm season crops in your winter beds during the summer. Early potatoes and bush beans have enough time to develop, but you don’t want to have squash, corn, tomatoes or other longer season crops in your winter areas. Most winter crops need to be planted by August 1st in the northern latitudes so always keep that in mind when planning winter crops.
Location is also important. Our cold fames sit close to a south facing fence. This offers them the maximum amount of sunlight in the winter along with some added wind protection by the fence. South facing is a must if you live in the northern hemisphere. The cold frames have to be able to collect as much sunlight as possible. I’ve had neighbors try both west and east facing exposures resulting in epic failures.
Up next in the third installment of our four season gardening series: Crop Selection!