An outstanding gardener from Bald Hill, Virginia Welch has some of the best cabbage that I’ve heard about growing right now. Welch is doing what more of us should: harvesting from a fall/winter garden.
We all know that garden vegetables can be divided into warm-season and cool-season vegetables. We call some cool-season vegetables as they require cool soil and air temperatures if they are to germinate, grow and mature with maximum yield and quality.
I know that you know we are in the USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 8. And 8b to be more precise. We have that classification because our average annual minimum temperature is supposed to fall between 15 and 20 F. And while we should get a hard freeze for a spell, we tend to have a milder winter when compared to gardeners anywhere to the north.
The cool-season vegetables that we enjoy originated in temperate climates and have their favorable growth period during the cool parts of the year. Cool-season crops grow poorly (if at all) in our summer heat. Though cool-season crops continue to grow well past the earliest freeze in the fall, they should be started early enough to mature before hard freezes are expected.
There are many reasons to plant a winter garden in our area. Often, it’s the only time to really be able to get cool season crops such as broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and carrots to grow properly. Plus, there’s less work involved.
Greens, such as arugula, spinach, collards, lettuce, Swiss chard, mustard and kale are great cool season crops. Root crops, such as carrots, beets, onions and radishes, grow well also. Brassicas, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, form large heads. “Sugar Snap” peas are perhaps my favorite this time of year and they must be supported on a tall trellis, as they frequently grow 6 feet tall.
All these cool loving vegetables have better flavor and texture than if you tried to grow them during the warmth of spring and certainly the heat of summer.
You would plant most cool-season vegetable seed at a depth equal to approximately three times the seed diameter. These vegetables tend to be shallow-rooted and thus are susceptible to drought. In most of our area, winter means regular rainfall, so watering is usually not an issue. It’s still a good idea to mulch your plantings to preserve the soil moisture and keep the weeds away.
Making multiple plantings of many of the more rapidly maturing cool-season vegetables will considerably extend the harvest season. Be sure to harden transplants of cool-season vegetables before they are planted in the garden.
While most pests are not active in winter, cabbage worms and slugs are two that never seem to rest. Watch for cabbageworm droppings on your Brassica plants and spray Bt to control them at the first sign of their activity. Consider covering plants with a floating row cover tucked tightly into the soil to prevent the snails and slugs from entering the bed. Row covers have another benefit.
For gardeners concerned about freezing temperatures, the row cover can protect plants into the low 20 degrees F, while allowing light, rain and air to the plants.
And while I brag about Mrs. Welch’s cabbage, be sure to ask her about the other items she is gardening even now as we approach Christmas.